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Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (30-19-1-61) vs. New York Islanders (22-19-8-52)
Where: Mellon Arena

Tuesday, January 19, 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.

Season Series:
Tuesday night marks the first time Penguins fans will get an up-close look at rookie sensation John Tavares as the New York Islanders make the first of three stops at Mellon Arena in 2009-10. These two teams have split the first two games at Nassau Coliseum, with the Penguins prevailing, 4-3 in a shootout, on Oct. 3 and the Islanders storming back to defeat the Penguins, 3-2, on Nov. 27. In the Oct. 3 matchup the Penguins wiped out a 2-1 Islanders’ lead after 40 minutes and secured the 4-3 shootout victory on Kris Letang’s deciding goal. Sidney Crosby and Ruslan Fedotenko each had a goal and an assist while Islanders’ rookie sensation John Tavares registered two points (1G-1A) in his National Hockey League debut. On Nov. 27 it was New York which pulled off the comeback, as they rode third-period tallies from Sean Bergenheim and Tavares to turn a 2-1 Penguins’ lead into a 3-2 win.



Last Meeting: Nov. 27, 2009
  NYI 3 - PIT 2 
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Play Road Hockey: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby mentioned after practice on Monday that one of the reasons the Penguins were able to right their ship was a simplistic approach that playing on the road provides. This includes getting pucks to the net, finishing checks and backchecking with a purpose. Coming off of a tiresome five-game, nine-day road trip they might want to continue playing such a style, especially against a hot Islanders squad which scored four times against Martin Brodeur on Monday to chase him from the net. New York finished that contest with 46 shots in a 4-0 victory.

Continued Scoring from the Third Line:
Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy comprise the top third-line in hockey. They were especially good on the back end of the Penguins recent road trip as they combined for 11 points (4G-7A) in three games. When these guys combine offensive numbers such as this with their usual shutdown defensive performance the Penguins are almost impossible to beat.
New York struggled mightily in 2008-09, finishing last in the overall league standings with a 26-47-9 overall record. Only the Colorado Avalanche scored fewer times than the 201 goals the Islanders netted. New York struggled with injuries between the pipes, as starter Rick DiPietro played in only five games all season, so journeymen Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis were forced to carry more of a load than they could handle. New York comes into this game as one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League with a 9-2-1 record over their past 12 games and a current four-game winning streak to move into the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Scott Gordon begins his second season behind the bench on Long Island. The former Quebec Nordiques netminder came to the Islanders after five-plus seasons behind the bench for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. He won that league’s coach of the year honor in 2007-08 when he led the Bruins to the best record in the AHL at 55-18-7. Gordon served as an assistant to Ron Wilson this past spring on the United State’s entry in the World Championships.
No. 1 overall selections always generate a buzz, and John Tavares has certainly done that for a New York franchise that could use some star-power. Tavares leads all first-year players with 17 goals and 31 points, with his goal total the second-best on New York and his point total third-best. Tavares seems to be getting over the rookie wall he appeared to hit beginning in mid-December as he has picked up three points (1G-2A) in his past four games after notching only one assist in the 13 preceding games. Tavares was sensational in his final year of junior hockey with 58 goals and 46 assists in the Ontario Hockey League during the 2008-09 campaign split between Oshawa and London. Center Rob Schremp, claimed off waivers prior to the start of the season from the Edmonton Oilers, is playing the best hockey of his professional career. Schremp has picked up points in six of his past 10 games and has posted nine points (3G-6A) during the stretch. The former 2004 first-round draft pick of the Oilers spent time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2006-07 season when the Penguins and Oilers both supplied players to the American Hockey League team. Schremp is an outstanding puckhandler with an array of shootout moves.

As mentioned, the Islanders were hit hard by a lack of goaltending depth a season ago, so they took drastic measures to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. First, they signed former Oilers’ No. 1 netminder Dwayne Roloson. Roloson nearly backstopped the Oilers into the Western Conference playoff field, finishing with a 28-24-9 record and an impressive .915 save percentage. Later in the summer the team added a name familiar to Penguins fans, Martin Biron. The former Flyer was superb at times for the Flyers in their first-round matchup with the Penguins, including a 3-0 shutout at Mellon Arena in Game 5.
New York has been able to sustain their success as one of the surprise teams in the NHL 49 games into the season because players such as John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey (See Player Spotlight below) and Frans Nielsen have been among their best players, spurring hope the franchise is on the right track. Tavares, Nielsen and Bailey give the Islanders three offensive-minded centers to match wits both now and in the future with the Penguins dynamic trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

Despite some tough sledding from the middle of December until the past week, Tavares has been everything he was built to be – namely a consistent point-producer, a solid playmaker and a presence to make those around him better. He ranks seventh (tied) in the NHL with eight power-play goals heading into Monday’s late games. Bailey, 20, centers the third line, but his 12 goals rank third on the team. He came on strong in the second half of last season and has continued where he left off this year. Nielsen is the elder statesman of the bunch at 25. The native of Herning, Denmark looks the part of the consummate second-line center – good playmaker and sound defensively. Nielsen has picked up 23 points (7G-16A) in 43 games and ranks among the league leaders with two game-deciding goals in shootouts.

Twenty-one-year-old Okposo, who already serves as an alternate captain for the Islanders, has taken over the team scoring lead from Tavares with 33 points (10G-23A) in 48 games. He brings a six-game scoring streak (4G-2A) into Monday’s contest. An 18-goal scorer in 65 games last season, Okposo gives the Islanders a deft shooting touch on the wing as he further develops into a power forward with soft hands around the net. Former Penguins draft pick Matt Moulson continues to be one of the top surprises in the league with a team-leading 19 goals in 49 games. His 32 points rank second behind Okposo. Moulson scored twice against New Jersey on Monday after striking just twice in the 16 previous games.

As usual the Penguins will have to be aware of Trent Hunter, who continues to make a living around the front of the net with his net-front presence. The two-time former 20-goal scorer always plays well against the Penguins. He has picked up three points (1G-2A) in the first two contests. New York’s recent success has also been aided by the return of captain Doug Weight to the lineup. Weight, who has yet to dress this season against the Penguins, has picked up eight assists in 19 games. Although his hands and speed aren’t what they once were, Weight is still a creative playmaker who offers veteran wisdom to a young offensive core. Former Penguin Richard Park, an alternate captain for New York, offers speed and tenacity on the forecheck, in addition to being a top-notch penalty killer. 
As youthful as the Islanders are up front, they have a veteran group on the back end. Power-play specialist Mark Streit, a marquee free agent addition a season ago from Montreal, led the Islanders in scoring in 2008-09 with 56 points (16G-40A). He scored 10 of his goals and 29 of his points on the power play. One of the league’s better players at getting low, accurate shots from the point, Streit currently leads all New York defenders and ranks fourth on the team with 28 points (7G-21A) in 49 games.

A couple of hulking veterans, 6-foot-6 Andy Sutton and 6-foot-2 Brendan Witt are the Islanders’ shutdown defensemen. Sutton is not afraid to get in your face both before and after the whistle, and he uses his massive frame to step in front of opposing shots – his 130 blocked shots are second most in the league. Witt is currently on the sideline with a calf injury so the Penguins, and Evgeni Malkin in particular, will find life easier skating through the neutral zone without fear of Witt there to step up and deliver one of his patented bone-jarring open-ice hits.

Jack Hillen and Bruno Gervais are two unheralded performers who have taken on increased minutes with Radek Martinek sidelined the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Hillen sees an average of 20:39 of ice time per game, second-most among New York defenders behind Streit. He is coming off a performance against the Devils on Monday where he posted a plus-3 rating and had an assist in 21:30 of ice time. On the season, Hillen has picked up 13 points (1G-12A) and has a plus-8 rating in 45 games. Freddy Meyer, a bit undersized, is also capable of helping Streit generate offense from the point position.
The goaltending depth possessed by the Islanders is second to none in the NHL. They have three men capable of being a legitimate No. 1 backstop on a team with playoff aspirations in Rick DiPietro, Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. The Islanders have such a problem because Rick DiPietro has finally returned to the ice following several surgeries on both his hip and his knees over the past two years. DiPietro is on a two-game winning streak, including a 20-save shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Monday afternoon, after losing his season debut.

Although he turns 40 on October 12, Roloson proved late last season for the Edmonton Oilers that he is still capable of carrying a team. His 28 wins a year ago are more impressive when you consider he also had to emerge from a three-headed monster in goal at the beginning of last season, splitting time with former Penguin Mathieu Garon and Jeff Deslauriers. Roloson did a great job filling in for DiPietro as the No. 1 guy and the two figure to split time the remainder of the way unless one gets hot. Roloson has appeared in 31 games and has posted an 18-7-6 record, 2.70 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

Biron went unsigned until late July when the Islanders picked him up as veteran insurance. With DiPietro back in the fold the Islanders might use Biron at the trade deadline to strengthen their roster. In 17 appearances this season he is 2-11-2 with a 3.22 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
A former first-round draft pick has carried the Islanders offense as of late – and his name is NOT John Tavares. Twenty-year-old Josh Bailey, New York’s top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is on a scorching pace with 13 points (5G-8A) over his past nine games. For the season Bailey ranks fifth on the team with 25 points (12G-13A) in 48 games.

Last season the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Bailey surprised the hockey world by making the Islanders out of training camp instead of spending a final season with the Windsor Spitfire of the Ontario Hockey League. In 68 games as a rookie he picked up 25 points (7G-18A). Bailey has picked up two points (1G-1A) in two games against the Penguins this season.
New York will be without a couple top defensemen against the Penguins.
- Radek Martinek, possibly the best all-around defenseman on the Islanders’ roster, is out for the season following a torn ACL in his right knee suffered against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 6.
- Defenseman Brendan Witt will be out until late January with a calf injury.
- Right wing Tim Jackman sustained a broken orbital bone against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 31 and he will also be out until the end of January.
“Always in the back of my mind I knew I'd be back to this point, sitting in front of (the media) after a big win. I am sure when I get a chance over the next couple of days to let it sink in I'll be pretty excited."

- Islanders’ goaltender Rick DiPietro talking to Yahoo! Sports after picking up his first win since December 2008 with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

17-9: Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro has posted a 17-9 record in shootouts since they were implemented to break ties in the NHL following the lockout in 2005-06.
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Author: Jason Seidling

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