Unlike the first two matchups between the Islanders and the Penguins in October, the air surrounding Monday's game was much more electric due to the return of the NHL's most prized player: Sidney Crosby. In his much-anticipated first game of the season, Crosby had the 21st four-point game of his career, helping to lead the Pens to a 5-0 win over the Isles.
After Monday's practice, the media hoarded Crosby, asking him questions about how he felt and what he was expecting going into the night's game.
"You don’t always get this anxious for games," said Crosby. "This is one I can definitely say I’m pretty anxious and excited for, but I don’t think anything matches the first [game]."
The butterflies didn't seem to faze Crosby, as he took a pass from linemate Pascal Dupuis in the neutral zone and skated through two Islanders defenders to notch his first goal of the season on a backhander five minutes into the game. With the 1-0 lead, the crowd erupted and chanted "Crosby! Crosby!" over and over.
"It was far beyond anything I expected. It was amazing, it was special," said Crosby. Check out the goal and turn your volume up while you're at it:
Crosby's offensive performance continued as he recorded another point later in the third period, assisting on a Brooks Orpik howitzer thanks to Dupuis keeping the puck in the zone and maintaining possession.
In the waning seconds of an abbreviated power play, Crosby passed to Kris Letang for a blasted shot on net, providing Evgeni Malkin a juicy rebound right next to the crease to put behind Anders Nilsson, who was stuck to the right post.
Less than a full two minutes later, Steve Sullivan broke his goal-scoring drought, scoring his second goal and first goal since Nov. 5. via a well-done tip-in from Malkin. If you're keeping score at home, no, Crosby did not have a hand in on this goal.
However, Crosby did have one in one more goal, where he took the puck from Dupuis along the boards and maintained possession for about eight seconds. He turned around and tossed a backhand toward the net. The puck found its way past Nilsson and the Pens went up 5-0 -- the final score.
The Isles did earn a few opportunities with the man-advantage, as from the 12:32 mark of the second period on they had five straight power plays. However, they were not able to do more than settle the pace from all-Pens to an evened-out level.
Nilsson, making his first start in North America, was not solid, but was far from the reason to blame for the Pens' beatdown of the Isles. Nilsson's defense seemed stuck in their tracks and slow to react to cover players and retrieve loose pucks -- leaving Nilsson out to dry after facing 36 shots, much like the game he started in relief against Boston where three goals went past him in a 6-0 loss Saturday night.
The NHL is glad to have Crosby back after a 10-month absence. Granted, the Islanders ended up playing the role of sacrificial lamb for Crosby's return, but amassing two goals and two assists, along with surviving a few hits, should give him confidence going forward.
"I knew he was going to back to 100 percent on the ice, where he left off last year, and that's what he did," said teammate Letang. "He took his rehab seriously, and the team did too. They gave him time, and he came back great."