Good afternoon hockey fans! Tonight the Penguins host the New York Islanders at CONSOL Energy for a Metropolitan Division matchup to start the year.
FLOWER POWER After missing eight games due to a concussion, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will be back between the pipes tonight against the Islanders. Before approaching the training staff with concussion-like symptoms after practice on Dec. 15, Fleury was stellar in goal for the Pens, posting a 2.29 goals-allowed average and .925 save-percentage.
“He’s a big part of the team,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s an elite goaltender. His body of work here speaks for itself and how good he is. I know how much his teammates respect him and how much they like him and they play hard for him.”
The players can certainly attest to that.
“He’s one of the top goalies in the league,” winger Patric Hornqvist said. “He gives us a lot of confidence back there. He’s a calm guy and really good in the room too. He’s an important part of our team.”
“It’ll be great,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “(Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff) did a really good job, but Fleury is coming back tonight. We’re happy to have him back and glad that he’s feeling better.”
“Every time you get a guy back in the lineup, especially a guy like him that brings a lot of energy in the room, brings a positive attitude,” Kris Letang said. “Obviously what he brings on the ice is important, but it’s huge.”
Fleury’s return means that Murray is headed back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Murray went 2-1-1 in his four-game NHL stint, posting a 1.72 goals-allowed average and .938 save-percentage.
He only got stronger as he went along, capping off his time here with an incredible 38-save performance in a 3-2 shootout loss against Toronto on Wednesday. Sullivan had nothing but positive things to say about the 21-year-old netminder.
“I told Matt when I was coaching him in (WBS) that I think he’s an NHL-caliber goalie,” Sullivan said. “We feel that strongly that he’s that good. He’s a young guy and he needs to continue to play to track that way.
“The nice thing about Matt is his maturity for a young man. He gets it. I think he understands the process. We’re really excited about his development and his potential moving forward. As disappointing as it is I’m sure for a player to have to go back to the AHL, I think Matt’s maturity – he really understands the process.”
MORNING SKATE DEETS The Pens used the same lines and D-pairings that they went with Thursday in Detroit at today’s morning skate:
Wilson and Warsofsky rotated in on defense as needed.
Sullivan confirmed that Ian Cole will play tonight after missing the last two periods of the Pens’ 5-2 win over the Red Wings on Dec. 31.
PP1: Malkin and Letang on the blue line, Kessel and Crosby down low with Hornqvist in front of the net. PP2: Letang and Daley on the blue line, Perron and Bonino down low with Kunitz in front of the net.
While the Pens' power play has gone 3-for-8 in their last two games, they will be up against the second-best penalty kill in the league.
“(The Islanders' penalty kill) plays well together as a unit,” Sullivan said. “They’re very aggressive especially in zone. They’re going to make our guys work for puck possession. We’re going to have to be close to one another to support the puck to try and beat their pressure.”
Letang had a similar mindset as Sullivan on their challenge with the man-advantage tonight.
“We have to support each other and be close to each other,” Letang said. “Make sure there’s always an option when you’re under pressure or in trouble. That’ll be the key.”
Crosby knows what’s been working as of late and doesn’t plan on making any changes.
“Shoot the puck,” Crosby said. “We’ve got guys who go to the net pretty hard, and Hornqvist has done a good job of being there a lot of the time. I think it’s just that mentality of not being too cute and getting pucks to the net.”
Even though he’s usually busy frustrating goaltenders in the crease, Hornqvist knows what has been working for the power play as of late.
“We just need to shoot when we get a chance,” Hornqvist said. “Then get the retrievals and things will kind of open up.”
GREETING GREISS Fleury isn’t the only goaltender making a return tonight. Thomas Greiss, who went 9-6-3 in 20 games as Fleury’s backup in Pittsburgh last season, will get the start for New York tonight.
Stepping in for the injured Jaroslav Halak, Greiss has won 11 games for the Islanders while posting a .936 save-percentage.
“Playing time always helps,” Greiss said of his recent success. “It’s way easier if you’re in a groove and you’re in the game and your timing is down. If you’re out there once a month, you have no timing and you don’t feel comfortable.”
Hornqvist, who is familiar with many goaltenders around the league, knows a little bit more about Greiss after playing with him last season.
“He’s a good goalie,” Hornqvist said. “He was obviously here last year so we know his spots a little bit. But in the game, you just get the puck on your stick and you look up and try to shoot where you find the opening. It’s not like you can tell you should shoot five-hole or low-glove or whatever. When you get the chance you look up and see what’s open.”