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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Islanders Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (15-9-4-34) vs. New York Islanders (10-16-2-22)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Thursday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh leads 2-0-0. The Penguins are 2-0-0 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum this season with two third-period, come-from-behind victories. The teams will play at Mellon Arena for the first time.



  Pens vs. Islanders 11/26/08
Challenge the Goaltender: Islanders netminder Joey MacDonald has come back down to earth following a phenomenal run in November. MacDonald has lost five of his last six games, surrendering 23 goals over that span. He’s in a little funk right now and the Penguins can use that to their advantage.

Score Early: The Islanders have lost four straight games and their confidence is low right now. If the Penguins can score a few goals early then they can break New York’s spirits. Of course, Pittsburgh hasn’t played great with a lead, but I’d rather have a lead than play from behind.
The New York Islanders are in the middle of a rebuilding process. The team let veteran players leave in free agency in favor of prospects and youth. The team has a new look and a new head coach with Scott Gordon taking over for Ted Nolan. Gordon is an accomplished coach in the AHL, winning the Coach of the Year award last year with the Providence Bruins.

Gordon’s first campaign behind the bench had a rocky beginning when the team started the season with a 4-9-2 record, including a stretch of six straight losses (0-5-1). The team rebounded well, with a stretch of five wins in six games. However, the Islanders are currently riding a four-game losing streak into Pittsburgh.

Injuries have plagued the team this season, as they did last year. All-Star goaltender Rick DiPietro is still out after having knee surgery at the beginning of November. Veteran defenseman Brendan Witt was sidelined for three weeks with a knee injury. Six Islanders are currently on injured reserve and the team will have to stay afloat until those players return.
General manager Garth Snow is in his third season in that role with the Islanders. Snow’s biggest addition was signing defenseman Mark Streit from Montreal. The Islanders also added veteran Doug Weight to play with his former teammate and friend Bill Guerin. During the offseason, Snow made a commitment to the club’s youth movement, letting veterans Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Shawn Bates walk in free agency. The Islanders will rely on their young players to step up and fill the void.
The Islanders rank 25th in the NHL with 2.54 goals per game. Veterans Guerin, Weight, Trent Hunter and Mike Comrie will have to carry the load for a very young Islanders team. Last year, Weight had a disappointing season with only 25 points in 67 games with St. Louis and Anaheim. In 28 games on Long Island, Weight already has 26 points on six goals and 20 assists. His points and assists are the most on the team. Hunter is second on the team with 21 points followed closely by Guerin (20 points). Both men also are tied for the team lead with 11 goals. Comrie posted eight points (2+6) in 14 games but has been sidelined with a hip injury.

The future of the Islanders will be in the hands of players like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielson and Sean Bergenheim. Of all the team’s prospects, Okposo may have the biggest upside. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He registered fives points in a nine-game stint with the Islanders last season. Bergenheim will get a lot of opportunities playing alongside Weight and Guerin. 18-year-old Josh Bailey, the ninth-overall selection in June, returned to action after a lower body injury put him on the shelf for a month. There was talk of Bailey joining Team Canada for the World Junior Championships but Snow said he will keep the youngster in an Islanders' uniform instead.
When it comes to injuries to the defensive corps, the Islanders can sympathize with Pittsburgh. Injuries have ravaged the defensive corps the last two seasons. Radek Martinek was the only defenseman to play more than 60 games last season. He wasn’t as lucky this year. A right shoulder injury landed Martinek on injured reserve for four to six weeks. Witt already missed significant time for the second straight season with an injury. Freddy Meyer was the third defenseman on IR and missed about a month with a sports hernia.

Free agent signee Streit will shoulder the offensive load for Islanders defense. He picked up career highs in goals (13), assists (49) and points (62) last year with the Canadiens. He’s currently leading the Islanders defensemen in points (20) with six goals and 14 assists. The Islanders are high on 24-year-old Chris Campoli, who missed 35 games to injury last year. Andy Sutton is a veteran defenseman that will provide stability on the blue line. He returned to lineup at the end of October after missing a month to, you guessed it, an injury.
New York has surrendered 3.46 goals per game, ranking 28th in the league. The loss of DiPietro is a huge blow to the Islanders. He is the rock of the franchise and the man the team relies on the most to keep them in hockey games – not to mention stealing the occasional win. Injuries have been an issue with DiPietro ever since he signed his blockbuster 15-year contract. He suffered a hip injury in last year’s All-Star Skills Competition. He finished last year with three surgeries (two hips, one knee) and a concussion. DiPietro’s rehab was stifled with another knee surgery that will kept him out of action for all but three games this year. DiPietro is close to returning and has targeted around Christmas for his possible first game back.

Joey MacDonald has handled the goaltending duties in DiPietro’s absence. He’s struggled with a 10-12-2 record, 3.08 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Most of his previous success occurred in the AHL. His backup is Yann Danis, who spent most of his career in the Montreal organization. Danis has only eight games of NHL experience, spending the majority of his career with Hamilton of the AHL.
Doug Weight has found the fountain of youth in New York. He’s already scored more points this season (26) than he did all of last season. Weight is on pace to register 76 points, which would be his best season total in 13 years (79, 1995-96). He’s currently riding a four-game point streak. Weight already notched point streaks of five and seven games this year. He's been very productive this season and looks very comfortable with wingers Bill Guerin and Sean Bergenheim.
“We’re going to have to be desperate to win the next one and go on a roll.”
- Dany Sabourin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
New York’s Doug Weight is five points shy of 1,000 for his career. Weight would be the 73rd NHL player to reach that plateau but only the eighth American-born player to do so (Mike Modano, Phil Housley, Jeremy Roenick, Joe Mullen, Brian Leetch, Pat LaFontaine, Keith Tkachuk).  

Author: Sam Kasan

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