Season series — The two Atlantic Division foes meet for the third of six times this season. Earlier in the season, Pittsburgh got the better of the Islanders, but required overtime to do so. Off the stick of Alex Goligoski in the overtime period, the Penguins earned their first win at newly constructed Consol Energy Center. The Isles had their say just before the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, as they were able to slay the Penguins, 2-1, in a shootout. The win also marked the end of Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point streak.
Big story — With the All-Star break and game around the corner, the big news surrounds the Penguins’ announcement confirming Crosby's absence from the game.
"Sidney is making progress in his recovery but still is not completely symptom-free," Penguins GM Ray Shero said. "The Penguins organization has decided that he will not attend the NHL All-Star Weekend and instead will continue to relax and recuperate in the hopes of returning to our lineup soon."
This, of course, means Crosby will be out of the lineup when the Islanders visit Pittsburgh. Joining Crosby in the press box will be Evgeni Malkin, who is suffering from a knee injury and could miss the All-Star Game, as well. The Islanders, meanwhile, look to focus on hockey while the recent claiming of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov gets played out. Nabokov has reportedly declined to join the Islanders.
"It's something that we're going to talk about probably a little bit later in the day," Islanders GM Garth Snow said Sunday. "He had his heart set on going to Detroit, obviously. I told him I respect that, but he's a New York Islander now and we'd love to have him part of our group."
Islanders — After a difficult recent stretch at home, in which the team went 1-4-1, the Isles' trip to Pittsburgh may just be what the team needs. On the road this month, the Isles are 3-2-0, and 5-2-0 dating back to Dec. 23. Most recently, the Isles are coming off a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, a team they beat just two nights before, 5-2. While the Isles nearly rallied for at least a point in the third period, their slow start cost them the game. That didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
"Guys have to be prepared mentally and physically (to start the game)," interim coach Jack Capuano said after the game.
It's fair to expect the Isles to start the game sharp against one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.
Penguins — In the eight prior games with Crosby out of the lineup, the Penguins have gone 4-3-1, including a 4-1-0 stretch in their last five games. Part of what’s held the team afloat of late has been the play of center Jordan Staal, who has seven points in the 10 games he’s played this season. All seven points, though, have come in his past five games. After winning three in a row against Montreal, Boston and Detroit, the Penguins, without Crosby and Malkin, fell to New Jersey before bouncing back at home against the Hurricanes Saturday night.
Who's hot — Aside from Staal, Pittsburgh has been led by the play of All-Star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who rides a four-game winning streak coming into this game and has not allowed more than two goals in each game in that span. ... Shouldering the load for the Islanders has been forward Matt Moulson, who has six points in his past five games, including goals in consecutive games leading up to the game against the Pens.
"I think it's a testament to the guys I play with," Moulson said after a two-goal game against the Sabres. "I don't have many goals on my own. I just try to capitalize on opportunities."
Injury report — Crosby and Malkin headline the Penguins' injury woes, while the Isles' most recent injury was to goalie Nathan Lawson, who is expected to miss 1-2 weeks with a left knee issue.
Stat pack — For the first time in a long while, Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos overtook Crosby for the most points in the League with 67 (Crosby, 66).
Puck drop — Penguins forward Chris Kunitz skates in to this game with 33 points. His highest as a Penguin since joining the team in 2008-09 was 32.