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Up-and-down Islanders host red-hot Penguins

by John Kreiser /

PENGUINS (17-8-0) at ISLANDERS (9-9-7)

Last 10 -- Penguins 5-5-0; Islanders 4-4-2

Season series -- The Penguins come to the Nassau Coliseum for the second time this season. They spoiled the Islanders' home opener on Oct. 3 by rallying for a 4-3 shootout victory. The Islanders have yet to visit Mellon Arena this season.

Big story -- It's the second meeting between Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Isles rookie John Tavares, who has yet to be overwhelmed by NHL competition. Crosby had a goal, an assist and the shootout winner in their first meeting, but Tavares also had a goal and an assist in that game -- his NHL debut -- before coming up short in the shootout.

Team Scope:

Penguins -- Pittsburgh has won three in a row and five of its last six by playing coach Dan Bylsma's system -- maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone, imposing their physical will on the opposition, generating scoring chances and getting quality goaltending. They were cooking on all burners in Wednesday's 3-1 home win over Montreal, a game in which the score didn't reflect their dominance.

"The last three games have been wins, pretty well," center Max Talbot said. "It's nice to play that way. We want to take pride in being an elite team. In that way we need to play with no doubt and that's how we played."

Islanders -- Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Philadelphia showed the two faces of the Islanders. They dominated the bigger, more talented Flyers for most of the first two periods with an energetic forechecking game that gave Philadelphia no room to move. But after the Flyers tied the game late in the second on a power-play goal, the Isles disappeared in the third period, managing only one shot and allowing a late goal to Scott Hartnell to drop back to .500.

"In the first and second periods, we took the ice that was available," coach Scott Gordon said. "In the third period, the only thing we wanted to do was make plays, and as a result we didn't generate any speed coming into the zone. We were easy to defend against in the defensive zone because there was no element of speed."

Who's hot -- Crosby has 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in his last seven games. With his assist against Montreal, Crosby moved into sole possession of 10th place on the team's all-time list with 279 assists -- at age 22. … Tavares leads all rookies with 9 goals and 20 points.

Injury report -- Pittsburgh is still without three regular defensemen -- Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang and Jay McKee -- as well as forward Chris Kunitz. The Islanders may get goaltender Rick DiPietro back in the next few weeks; he's practicing again after missing nearly a year with knee and hip surgery.

Stat pack -- The Penguins have tied a franchise record with 17 wins through their first 25 games of a season (1994-95, 17-6-2; 1995-96, 17-5-3). Pittsburgh is 12-2 this season when scoring first and 26-2-2 all-time under coach Dan Bylsma. …

Puck drop -- The Islanders conclude a two-game pit stop at home that's sandwiched between trips of seven and five games. They've had a hard time putting together 60 solid minutes of hockey -- but anything less than that won't be enough against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

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