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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Islanders Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-28-9-95) vs. New York Islanders (18-35-6-42)

Where: Mellon Arena
Thursday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series:
Pittsburgh finishes its season series with the Islanders. The Penguins lead 4-0-1 and are 2-0-0 against the Islanders at Mellon Arena this season with a 9-2 victory in which both Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis each tallied his first career hat trick Dec. 11, and a 1-0 win Feb. 25.



  Pens vs. Islanders 2/25
Trib Media Minute
Coach's Corner
Sidney Crosby
Bill Guerin
Mathieu Garon
Philippe Boucher
Amends: The Islanders are coming off of the worst loss in franchise history following the 9-0 defeat to Carolina on Tuesday night. New York allowed the most shots against in team history while being outshot 57-12. Their worst previous defeat was an 8-0 loss to St. Louis in 1988. New York will want to make up for the loss by putting on a good performance against Pittsburgh. The Penguins better be prepared for New York to come out guns blazing.   

Score Early:
The Islanders are in the stretch run of a forgettable season. They currently have a five-point cushion for last place in the NHL and are on the cusp of locking up the a top-two pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Coming off of their 9-0 loss to Carolina, if the Penguins assert their will early, it may break New York’s spirit.
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 has been rocky. The team opened 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 10-game and eight-game losing streaks. The Islanders have dropped seven of their last nine games (2-6-1) heading into their showdown with the Penguins, including a 9-0 loss Tuesday to Carolina.

Injuries have plagued the team this season with 558-man games lost. All-Star goaltender Rick DiPietro was lost for the season with a knee injury after playing a meager five games. Brendan Witt, Doug Weight, Kyle Okposo, and several other players have missed significant time to injury this season. Four 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 offseason 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. He then shipped forward Mike Comrie and defenseman Chris Campoli to Ottawa for a first-round pick (San Jose’s) and Dean McAmmond. At the NHL trade deadline, he sent Guerin to Pittsburgh for a conditional draft pick. Snow has recently inked a one-year deal with forward Doug Weight.
New York struggled at filling the net this season. The Islanders rank 28th in the NHL with 2.44 goals per game. Veterans Guerin (when he was still there), Weight and Trent Hunter 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 50 games on Long Island, Weight already has 35 points on nine goals and 26 assists but a sprained MCL cost him 29 games. Hunter is third (tied) on the team with 14 goals and fifth with 31 points in only 55 games. He fractured his left ankle and is out for the remainder of the season.

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 leads the team’s forwards in scoring with 38 points on a team-best 18 goals and 20 assists in his first pro season (more on Okposo in player spotlight). 19-year-old Josh Bailey, the ninth-overall selection in June, missed some time with a lower body injury. He netted seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in 65 games. Nielson (32), Bergenheim (22) and Tambellini (15) 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 48 games. Brendan Witt 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. Andy Sutton (broken right foot) is 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 the 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 (55) and assists (39), while netting 16 scores. Only two other blueliners (Bruno Gervais, 18; Sutton, 10) hit double digits in points.
New York has surrendered 3.28 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 forced DiPietro to shut it down for the rest of the year.

Joey MacDonald has handled the bulk of the goaltending duties this season in DiPietro’s absence. He’s posted an 14-25-6 record, 3.31 goals against average and .903 save percentage. Yann Danis, who has played in six of the team’s last eight games, has only 34 games of NHL experience, spending the majority of his career with Hamilton of the AHL.
Kyle Okposo:  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 and then played for the United States at the World Junior Championship. Okposo then 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, the seventh-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, is enjoying a successful rookie campaign in the NHL. He leads the team in goals with 18 and has chipped in 20 assists. Okposo’s 38 points paces all Islanders forwards. He was on a tear the last month with six goals and nine assists for 15 points in his last 12 games and posted an eight-game scoring streak. Unfortunately, a sore groin ended his impressive run and he’s missed the past three games.

ALSO KEEP AN EYE ON: If Okposo doesn’t play against the Penguins, check out defenseman Mark Streit. He is one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the NHL. The All-Star blueliner leads the Islanders in scoring with 55 points on 16 goals and 39 assists. Streit’s 39 assists are a team-best and his 55 points are sixth most (tied) in the league by a defenseman. 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’s added some offensive punch to the blue line and is the Islanders’ power-play quarterback.
“It was just one of those nights when it seemed nothing was going in the right direction.”
Islanders coach Scott Gordon after a 9-0 loss Tuesday at Carolina, Yahoo! Sports
The Penguins have a 16-3-4 record since Dan Bylsma was named interim head coach. Bylsma's debut was Feb. 16 at New York on Long Island. Here is a look at the Eastern Conference standings the day Bylsma stepped behind the bench:

Pos. Team GP Record Pts
4. Philadelphia 55 30-16-9 69
5. Montreal 57 30-21-6 66
6. NY Rangers 57 30-21-6 66
7. Florida 60 28-20-8 64
8. Buffalo 56 29-22-6 64
9. Carolina 57 28-24-5 61
10. Pittsburgh 57 27-25-5 59

Now, just seven weeks later the Penguins are in sixth place and have clinched a playoff berth. In 23 games, Pittsburgh netted 36 points and has a shot at playing Game 1 of the first round at Mellon Arena.

Pos. Team GP Record Pts
4. *Philadelphia 79 43-25-11 97
5. *Carolina 80 45-28-7 97
6. *Pittsburgh 80 43-28-9 95
7. Montreal 80 41-29-10 92
8. NY Rangers 80 41-30-9 91
9. Florida 80 39-30-11 89
10. Buffalo 79 38-32-9 85

* - Clinched playoff berth

Author: Sam Kasan

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