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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Islanders Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-26-6-64) vs. New York Islanders (18-35-6-42)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Wednesday, February 25, 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 3-0-1. The Penguins are 1-0-0 against the Islanders at Mellon Arena this season. In that lone win, the Penguins notched a 9-2 victory and both Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis each tallied his first career hat trick.



  Pens vs. Islanders 2/16
Challenge the Goaltenders: Islanders netminder Joey MacDonald has struggled this season and Yann Danis is an unproven commodity. MacDonald has won two games in his last 20 appearances. He played well in the previous meeting with Pittsburgh but let in six goals in his next game. MacDonald is still recovering from a groin injury. Danis had his best career game (40 saves and a shutout against New Jersey), but has only 22 games of NHL experience.

Score Early:
The Islanders are in the stretch run of a forgettable season. They currently have a six-point cushion for last place in the NHL and appear to be inching closer and closer to the top pick in the Entry Draft. If the Penguins assert their will early, it may 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. The Islanders have dropped seven of their last nine games (2-6-1) 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 fight through the setbacks.
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. Snow continued his commitment to the youth movement by shipping forward Mike Comrie and defenseman Chris Campoli to Ottawa for a first-round pick (San Jose’s) and Dean McAmmond. Guerin, the Islanders captain, may be next in line for a new home.
New York has struggling at filling the net. The Islanders rank 28th in the NHL with 2.39 goals per game. Veterans Guerin, Weight and Trent Hunter have tried 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 until late March/early April. Guerin has a team-best 16 goals to go with his 19 assists and 35 points. Hunter is second on the team with 14 goals and fourth with 31 points.

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 22 points (12G-10A). 18-year-old Josh Bailey, the ninth-overall selection in June, missed some time with a lower body injury. He netted two goals and 14 assists for 16 points in 45 games. Nielson (19), Bergenheim (15) and Tambellini (6) 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 New York blue line 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 28 games. Witt already missed significant time for the second straight season with an injury. Freddy Meyer missed about a month with a sports hernia in November. He’s been on the shelf since early January with a strained groin. 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 (42) and assists (31). Only one other blueliner (Sutton, 10) has hit double digits in points.
New York has surrendered 3.30 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 12-24-4 record, 3.29 goals against average and .901 save percentage. He’s won only twos games in his last 20 contests (Feb. 16 vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 31 vs. Florida). His backup is Yann Danis, who spent most of his career in the Montreal organization. Danis has only 22 games of NHL experience, spending the majority of his career with Hamilton of the AHL. He’s coming off a breakthrough performance with 40 saves and his first career shutout in a 4-0 win over New Jersey.
Streit is one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the NHL. The All-Star blueliner leads the Islanders in scoring with 42 points on 11 goals and 31 assists. Streit’s 31 assists are a team-best and his 42 points are sixth most in the league by a defenseman. He’s currently riding a three-game point streak (2G-1A). The former ninth-round pick by Montreal didn’t land in the NHL until he was 28 years old and had a breakout season last year with 13 goals and 49 assists for 62 points, third most by an NHL defenseman. He adds some offensive punch to the blue line and is the Islanders’ power-play quarterback.
“There’s nothing you can do. That’s the direction they’re going in and that’s fine. Business-wise, it’s probably the right thing to do, the way the game is today. As a hockey player, you just have to understand that. It’s not going to ruin my day.”
- Bill Guerin on the team’s youth movement and his possible trade, Yahoo! Sports
> Jordan Staal will play in his 200th consecutive game.

> Bill Guerin already hit the 400-goal plateau this season. He is two points shy of the 800 mark in his career.

Author: Sam Kasan

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