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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Islanders Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-25-5-59) at New York Islanders (16-33-6-38)

: Nassau Coliseum
When: Monday, February 16, 2008 at 2:00 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 3-0-0. The Penguins are 2-0-0 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum this season with two come-from-behind victories. The Penguins notched a 9-2 victory in the lone meeting at Mellon Arena in which both Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis each tallied his first career hat trick.



Pens vs. Islanders 12/11
Challenge the Goaltender: Islanders netminder Joey MacDonald had a phenomenal run in November but has since come back down to Earth. He won only one game in December (Dec. 31). In fact, that was the last win he's notched this season. Although injuries have sidelined him for the better part of January and February, he still has won only one contest in his last 18 tries. He’s in a little funk right now and the Penguins can use that to their advantage.

Score Early:
The Islanders have lost five straight games and their confidence is low right now. New York suffered extension losing streaks (10 and 8 games) and its morale is being pushed to the breaking point. If the Penguins can score a few goals early then they can break New York’s spirits.
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 misery peaked in December and January when the team won only two contests in a 22-game stretch (2-17-3). During that span the Islanders suffered a 10-game and eight-game losing streak. Remarkably, New York strung together four-straight wins to temporarily break out of its slump. However, the Islanders dropped their last five games (0-4-1) heading into their showdown with the Penguins.

Injuries have plagued the team this season, as they did last year. All-Star goaltender Rick DiPietro was lost for the season with a knee injury after playing a meager five games. Veteran defenseman Brendan Witt was sidelined for three weeks with a knee injury. Seven Islanders are currently on injured reserve and the team is trying to stay afloat until those players return.
General manager Garth Snow is entering his third season in that role with the Islanders. Snow’s biggest addition was signing defenseman Mark Streit from Montreal. The Islanders also brought in 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.
New York has struggling at filling the net. The Islanders rank 28th in the NHL with 2.40 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 44 games on Long Island, Weight already has 35 points on nine goals and 26 assists to lead the Islanders forwards in scoring. But Weight suffered a sprained MCL and will be sidelined for six weeks. Guerin has a team-best 15 goals to go with his 19 assists and 34 points. Hunter is second on the team with 14 goals and Comrie has posted 20 points while missing 17 games to 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 and currently has 20 points (11G-9A). 18-year-old Josh Bailey, the ninth-overall selection last June, missed some time with a lower body injury. He has netted two goals and 13 assists for 15 points in 41 games. Tambellini (6), Nielson (15) and Bergenheim (12) have also pitched in for the Islanders.
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 has limited Martinek to 24 games. Witt already missed significant time for the second straight season with an injury. Freddy Meyer missed about a month with a sports hernia. Thomas Pock (hand) and Andy Sutton (broken right foot) are also currently on IR. Sutton has had two stints on injured reserve and has played in only 23 games this year.

Free agent signee Streit is shouldering the offensive load for Islanders. He picked up career highs in goals (13), assists (49) and points (62) last year with the Canadiens. He’s currently leading the Islanders in points (38) and assists (29). Streit is currently listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury and could miss the Pittsburgh game. The Islanders are high on 24-year-old Chris Campoli, who missed 35 games to injury last year. He is second in scoring for New York defenseman with 16 points.
New York has surrendered 3.34 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. Post-surgery swelling in his knee has forced DiPietro to shut it down for the rest of the year.

Joey MacDonald has handled the goaltending duties in DiPietro’s absence. He’s posted an 11-23-4 record, 3.26 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 20 games of NHL experience, spending the majority of his career with Hamilton of the AHL.
The St. Paul native will be the future face of the Islanders franchise. He had a whirlwind tour last year, playing with four different teams. He started the year with the University of Minnesota followed by a stint for the United States at the World Junior Championship. Okposo joined Bridgeport of the AHL, netting 28 points (9G-19A) in 35 games. Finally, his play earned him a late season call-up to New York. In his short stint he scored five points in nine games. Okposo is has 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points in his first full-season at the pro level.
“We've seen a ton of guys go down with injures. But it's never a lost season. There are always things you can gain. Some guys can get experience and that's what we're doing here.”
- Bill Guerin told the New York Post
Bill Guerin is three points shy of the 800 mark in his career.

Author: Sam Kasan

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