PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins have navigated a series of injuries to high-profile players while sprinting back into the race for the top spot in the East Division.
Add goaltender Tristan Jarry to the list of those on the shelf.
And add Casey DeSmith to the latest in an increasingly long line of role players who have filled in admirably in a pinch.
DeSmith made 19 saves after Jarry exited following the first period with an upper-body injury and the Penguins held off the New York Islanders 2-1 on Monday night.
Given just a few minutes between periods to get himself ready, DeSmith responded with some spectacular play as the Penguins pulled even with New York for second place in the East by beating the Islanders for the sixth time in eight meetings.
“ I think we give (the Islanders) a little bit of their own medicine,” DeSmith said. “We keep it simple. We play a grinder-type game.”
The Penguins haven’t really had a choice in recent weeks with a group that includes star Evgeni Malkin and forwards Kasperi Kapanen, Brandon Tanev and Teddy Blueger all sidelined. Yet they managed to put together a scorching March in which they posted an NHL-best 25 points (12-3-1).
“We’re playing a complete game,” said forward Jared McCann, who scored his eighth goal of the season in the final stages of the first period. “We’re doing the simple things to win the game. I know it sounds pretty cliche but we’re working as a team.”
McCann’s goal gave him five in his last 10 games. Anthony Angello added the first power-play goal of his career. and John Marino assisted on both goals.
Still, it was DeSmith who led the way. He and Jarry have formed a potent tandem over the last six weeks. He withstood an immediate flurry after entering and never wavered as the Penguins nursed their early two-goal outburst all the way to the finish.
“We’ve got so good lately at defending leads,” DeSmith said. “I think that’s the biggest improvement with this team lately is we’re really good holding onto leads. Chipping in, blocking shots.”
SLOW STARTS PLAGUING ISLES
Matt Martin scored his seventh of the season for the Islanders and Semyon Varlamov made 20 saves but couldn’t stop New York from getting swept during its final two-game set in Pittsburgh.
Still, Martin was heartened about the way his team played after getting dismantled in a 6-3 loss on Saturday.
“Especially the second and third, I thought we were really on our game,” Martin said. “Had a lot of opportunities. Just hit a lot of posts. I think that was four in a row now that we were chasing the game. … We have to get off to a better start moving forward.”
The Penguins are the rare club to get the better of New York this season. The Islanders are 2-5-1 against Pittsburgh and 20-5-3 against everyone else.
“It seems we want to play their game more than we want to play our game when we play the Penguins,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “I think we realize that. … I think we’ve got a good understanding.”
Angello, a checking-line forward known more for his physical style than scoring touch, somehow found himself pressed into duty on the power play. It paid immediate dividends. Angello planted his 6-foot-5 frame in front and swatted home a backhand off a pretty feed from Marino 4:24 into the first.
“I tried to put (the pass) in the area near him and he’s a good enough player to make a play on that and put it in the net,” Marino said of Angello.
Pittsburgh forward Jason Zucker played 13:04 in his return from an 18-game absence with a lower-body injury. Only a spectacular save from Varlamov prevented Zucker from scoring his first goal since Feb. 18.
Islanders: Start a six-game homestand on Thursday when Washington visits. The Capitals have won each of the first three meetings between the clubs this season.
Penguins: Begin a six-game road trip on Thursday night in Boston. Pittsburgh is 1-2-1 against the Bruins.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports