Pittsburgh Penguins (46-28-7-99) vs. New York Islanders (34-37-10-78)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins lead 4-1 09-10 Away vs. NY Islanders: Series tied 1-1 All-Time vs. NY Islanders: Penguins lead 94-88-27 All-Time Away vs. NY Islanders: Penguins trail 40-52-11 Overtime: Penguins lead 8-3-15 Shootout: Penguins trail 2-5
New York is going to miss the postseason dance for the third consecutive season and fourth time in five years since the NHL returned from the lockout. Now that we have the negative out of the way, there is plenty of positive to report from Long Island. Already the Islanders have improved by 17 points, and at midseason they spent a week inside the playoff field. New York is a team on the rise behind the development of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson. Expect the Islanders to seriously challenge for a playoff spot next season.
Matt Moulson – With two games remaining in the regular season Moulson has a chance to crack the 30-goal mark in his first season with the Islanders, as he continues to lead the team with 28 goals. Perhaps most impressively about that total is the fact that 22 of those goals have been scored at even strength. Moulson has just two goals over his past 10 games. Moulson has also been clutch for New York, leading the team with five game-winning tallies. John Tavares – There is no question that Tavares has been streaky during his first NHL season, but that should be expected from any 19 year old, even when they are the No. 1-overall draft pick. Right now Tavares is riding a hot wave, notching 14 points (4G-10A) over his previous 11 contests, including a career-high five points against Vancouver on March 16. Tavares leads the Islanders in scoring with 50 points (22G-28A), a total which ranks second among all rookies. He is tied with Matt Duchene for the lead among first-year players with 10 power-play markers.
Josh Bailey – New York has plenty of reasons to be excited heading into next season, with Bailey chief among them. The 20-year-old has watched his offensive production take a spike forward in year two, as he has doubled his goal-scoring total from seven to 16. He leads the team with a 14.3 shooting percentage. Bailey is not the most physical player, but he does do a good job taking care of business in his own zone, especially for a second-year guy. Bailey had one of New York’s three goals on Thursday night.
Sean Bergenheim – There aren’t too many players on a bigger role right now than Bergenheim, who has shaken off a rough start to the season to post eight points (4G-4A) over his previous six games. Thanks to his recent performance Bergenheim is just one point shy of tying last season’s career high of 24. Bergenheim isn’t afraid to mix it up in the corner, ranking third (tied) on the team with 126 hits. Bergenheim scored the tying goal for the Islanders during their 3-2 victory over the Penguins on Nov. 27.
Trent Hunter – Hunter continues to earn a living against the Penguins, picking up four points (2G-2A) in the five contests. The abrasive winger, who is third on the team with 123 hits, has hit double figures in goal scoring for the sixth straight season despite dressing for just 59 games. Hunter is very good around the cage where he likes to pick up a majority of his goals. Frans Nielsen – Nielsen is having a strong finish to his second full NHL campaign, posting four points (2G-2A) over his past five contests. He tallied the game-deciding goal in the shootout victory over the Canadiens on April 6. Nielsen has established career highs across the board offensively, while also pacing all New York forwards with a plus-6 rating. The 25-year-old looks capable of growing into a capable second/third-line center.
Kyle Okposo – While Tavares figures to serve as New York’s heart moving forward, Okposo looks as though he will be the soul. Already an alternate captain at age 21, Okposo sets a great example at both ends of the rink despite this being just his second full season. He ranks second on the team in both assists (30) and points (48), while at the same time serving as one of the top penalty killers on the squad. Further illustrating his work away from the puck is his team-high 75 takeaways. Okposo ranks third on the team with an average of 20:26 minutes of ice time per contest.
Josh Bailey Sean Bergenheim
Trent Hunter Kyle Okposo
Jack Hillen – In addition to their talent up front, New York is also beginning to develop a pretty underrated group of blueliners to match their offensive talent. One of those players is Hillen. The 24-year-old rearguard has seen his minutes increase over the course of the season due to injuries, trades and his continued improvement. Hillen is part of the new breed of post-lockout defensemen who rely more on their skating and passing skills than they do their size. He ranks second on the team in average ice time at 20:43 per contest while he ranks second on the team behind Mark Streit with 129 blocked shots.
Andrew MacDonald – Another young, smooth-skating blueliner earning rave reviews for his play is the 23-year-old MacDonald. A fixture on the back end since his Nov. 16 recall, MacDonald leads the team with a plus-9 rating. Although he has posted just seven points (1G-6A) in 44 NHL games, MacDonald has a pedigree which suggests the ability to grow into a No. 2/3 scoring option from the blue line. He has finished with an even or plus rating in 36 of his 44 games.
Dylan Reese - Upper St. Clair native Dylan Reese became the ninth player born in western Pennsylvania to reach the NHL when he made his debut against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 4. Reese made his Mellon Arena debut on Thursday night, seeing 12:42 minutes of ice time. The 25-year-old blueliner has been very impressive since, picking up four points (2G-2A) and posting a plus-5 rating in 17 games. Reese, a Harvard graduate, was acquired by the Islanders at the trading deadline.
Mark Streit – There aren’t too many power-play quarterbacks in the game better than Streit, who ranks second to only Washington’s Mike Green among defensemen with nine man-advantage tallies. Streit once again ranks as one of the highest-scoring blueliners with 46 points (11G-35A) in 80 games. However, Streit is more than just an offensive specialist. Anybody who watched Streit throw his 6-foot frame around at the 2010 Winter Olympics with Team Switzerland knows he doesn’t avoid the rough stuff. He also leads the Islanders with 130 blocked shots and ranks second with 74 takeaways. Streit ranks seventh in the league with an average ice time of 25:45 minutes per contest.
Andrew MacDonald Mark Streit
Martin Biron – A huge reason why the Islanders have been able to post a 9-7-2 mark since the Olympic break has been the way Biron has managed to turn his season around. Mired in the No. 3 role with Rick DiPietro healthy and Dwayne Roloson standing on his head, Biron began the season just 2-11-2 over his first 15 decisions, but has gone 7-2-2 since. However, Biron saw his four-game winning streak come to a close on Thursday night at Mellon Arena when he was pulled after the opening period having allowed four goals on 10 shots. Dwayne Roloson – New York has asked a lot out of the 40-year-old netminder this season, forcing him to face an average of 31.1 shots per game. Despite the heavy workload Roloson has posted an outstanding season between the pipes, winning 20 games for the third time in four seasons and the fourth time overall. Roloson stopped 22 of the 25 shots the Penguins sent his way in relief on Thursday night. Roloson is signed through 2010-11, giving the Islanders a proven playoff performer to lead them into next season as the team continues to take huge strides toward becoming a postseason contender. Roloson backstopped the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.
Martin Biron Dwayne Roloson
John Tavares - There might have been a few bumps along the way but the positive sure outweighed the negatives in rookie sensation John Tavares’ rookie campaign. The 19-year-old sniper, who leads the Islanders with 50 points, ranks second among all rookies in goals (22) and points, while ranking third with 28 assists. He also has a team-high 10 power-play tallies. Most impressively, Tavares has shaken off a midseason slump which saw him post just three points (1G-2A) over 16 games from Jan. 30 – Mar. 14 to post 14 points (4G-10A) over his last 11 games prior to Saturday.
"(The Penguins) really turned the organization around. They're a couple of years ahead of what we want to accomplish." - New York forward Josh Bailey speaking to Yahoo! Sports on the Islanders using the Penguins as a model for their rebuilding efforts.
"We certainly hope it's next year we get into the playoffs. That's where we can get some really good experience, see what it takes to win in the playoffs and be ready for the sacrifice it takes to win the (Stanley) Cup." - Islanders forward John Tavares telling Yahoo! Sports New York’s goal for the 2010-11 campaign.
“I am sure they are going to want to play spoiler. I think for us, we have a lot of motivation. There should be no shortage of that in the next few games. We have to be aware of that but we have to be prepared that they are going to be playing loose. We have to be ready for tough games here.” - Sidney Crosby on playing the Islanders.
89-49 New York has played well the first and second periods this season, but it has been the third period which has killed them. Heading into Saturday they had been outscored by 40 goals during the final period.
5-11-1 The Islanders have struggled to a 5-11-1 record in the second of back-to-back situations this season