After speaking at Long Island elementary schools on Wednesday, the New York Islanders started studying for a big test, preparing for a pair of back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, starting tonight at 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh.
The Islanders currently rank second in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the Penguins. The Penguins are up 1-0 in the season series after beating the Islanders 3-1 on Oct. 18.
The Penguins have become one of the Isles’ most fierce rivals over the past four seasons and Josh Bailey said the Islanders always look at games against Pittsburgh as physical and mental test.
"They're intense games,” he said. “We know their team very well as well they know our team very well. We want to let that bring the best out in us.”
Though still early in the 2014–15 season, Bailey said the home-and-home against the Penguins carries more meaning than simply four points in the standings.
“They're the top team in the division right now, and if we have a productive weekend, we could change that,” he said. “It's big for us. It's a good test for us, and we want to have a better effort than we did last time in Pittsburgh."
The Islanders experimented with different line combinations in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Notably, Head Coach Jack Capuano reunited Kyle Okposo with Frans Nielsen to try and spark some offense. The plan worked, but according to Nielsen every player feels comfortable playing with each other.
“We didn’t have a good first period, and [Jack Capuano] just tried to mix it up. Sometimes you are rewarded for it,” he said. “They put Kyle [Okposo] on my line, and I’ve played with him a lot, so I know him. It was good to see that Cappy made a change and we were rewarded for it. It was good coaching, and it looks like he’s sticking with it.”
The Penguins shutdown the Islanders on seven power-play chances in the game in Pittsburgh last month, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the current league leader in shutouts with four, turned away 37 of 38 shots.
The Penguins recently lost forward Pascal Dupuis for at least six months with a blood clot in the lung, but welcomed back forward Beau Bennett, who missed the start of the season with a lower-body injury. Reigning NHL MVP Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins and the NHL with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists).
With first place in the Metropolitan Division at stake, the mini series against the Penguins starts on Friday at 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh.