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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Islanders

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (3-2-0) vs. ISLANDERS (2-2-1)
WHEN: January 27, 2013 - 7:30 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: NBC Sports Network  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The 2011-12 campaign was another disappointing season for the New York Islanders, who finished in the bottom five of the league standings for a fifth straight year. Tuesday night in Pittsburgh will be the fourth game of a five-game road trip for the Islanders, who are currently 1-1-1 on the swing and 2-2-1 on the season.

The Islanders have a number of talented forwards who can score goals, with center John Tavares and winger Matt Moulson leading the way. Though former first-line winger PA Parenteau signed a lucrative four-year deal with Colorado in the offseason, Tavares and Moulson remain together on the top line and continue to thrive playing alongside each other in their third season as linemates. For an example of just how well they work together, Tavares has been on the ice for 63 consecutive Moulson goals, earning assists on 42 of them. Moulson, who is coming off his third straight 30-goal season, has five points in five games for the Islanders while Tavares, whose goal and six assists currently paces the Islanders, has led the team in scoring in all three of his NHL seasons.

Right now Kyle Okposo, who had 24 goals last season, is slotted in on the top line with Moulson and Tavares. But Islanders head coach Jack Capuano wasn’t pleased with their defensive effort in their last game, a 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg on Sunday, and told the team website “they’re going to have to tighten up (defensively) or that line will be no longer.”

Playmaking center Frans Nielsen and speedster Michael Grabner currently compose the second line with newcomer Brad Boyes. Nielsen and Grabner are especially tough to defend because they're dangerous in all situations, including when their team is shorthanded. The two skilled forwards have been logging a lot of minutes on the penalty kill, which has allowed just one power-play goal on 17 attempts. Nielsen also sees a lot of time on the power play with Tavares, Moulson, Boyes and Okposo. Veteran centers Keith Aucoin – who leads the team with a 66.7 percent success rate on faceoffs – and Marty Reasoner provide depth down the middle. Young Swedish forward David Ullstrom has gotten off to a strong start on left wing next to Aucoin, scoring four points (2G-2A) in five games.

The Islanders claimed Brian Strait off waivers on Jan. 18 after the defenseman, taken by Pittsburgh in the third round (65th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft, had spent the previous three-plus seasons in the Penguins organization. Strait is playing a key role in the Islanders’ defensive rotation as he is anchoring the top pairing with captain Mark Streit (who quarterbacks the Islanders' power play). Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, Matt Carkner and rookie Thomas Hickey round out the top six.

Goalie Evgeni Nabokov is back as the Islanders’ No. 1 netminder, with Rick DiPietro currently backing him up. Though Nabokov had spent his entire career with the Sharks in the Western Conference before coming to Long Island last season, he has done well against the Penguins whenever he’s faced them. Nabokov is 9-2 vs. Pittsburgh with a pair of shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. He was solid last year in his first season with the Islanders, posting a respectable 19-18-3 record, .917 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average with a team that finished 23 points out of fourth place in the Atlantic Division. Look for the veteran goalie to build off that.


Tavares finally broke his 15-game NHL goalless drought that dated back to last season on Sunday against Winnipeg. It’s not like he hasn’t been contributing – the center has six assists in addition to his goal, leading the Isles with seven points – but overall, he’s had trouble readjusting back to the North American style of play after skating in Switzerland during the work stoppage. It’s been somewhat of a frustrating start for Tavares, so him finally finding the back of the net and shaking that monkey off his back is a big positive for him. And coming off a tough overtime loss to Winnipeg on Sunday, he’ll be more motivated than ever to put the team on his back and get them a needed win.

Crosby has scored three times in five games, including a two-goal effort on Jan. 25 in Winnipeg. But he was held off the scoresheet on Sunday in Ottawa despite creating a number of decent scoring opportunities and making plays that only elite talents can produce. He kept getting the puck to the net and scored a pretty shootout goal to help Pittsburgh get the two points. The Penguins captain seems locked and loaded to have a big night.

  • Pittsburgh has won the season series between the two teams in each of the last five years and five of the previous six years. The last time the Penguins dropped a season series to the Islanders was 2003-04 (1-3-2).
  • The Penguins are trying to break a two-game losing streak against the Islanders. Prior to losing a home-and-home series against New York on March 27-29 of last season, the Penguins hadn’t lost two straight games to the Islanders since losing three straight games between Feb. 19-Nov. 3, 2007. Pittsburgh hasn’t lost two straight home games against the Islanders since dropping a pair of games on Nov. 16 and Dec. 7, 2002 at Mellon Arena.
  • The Penguins have gone 19-3 in the last 22 meetings between the two teams in Pittsburgh. During that stretch the Penguins have outscored the Islanders by an 89-47 margin for an average of 4.05 goals per game. The Penguins have scored three or more goals in 19 of those 22 games.
  • Pittsburgh has gone 13-1 in its last 14 home games against New York. New York’s 5-3 victory on March 27 of last season was its first-ever win at CONSOL Energy Center. The Islanders have posted a record of 1-4-1 in six previous games at CONSOL. Prior to the Islanders win last March, the Penguins had won 13-straight home games between Feb. 7, 2008-Nov. 21, 2011. Overall, the Penguins have gone 23-6-2 in their last 31 meetings with New York.
  • Pittsburgh won the season series against the Islanders, 4-2, last season due in large part to the efforts of Pascal Dupuis, who paced all Pittsburgh players with nine points (3G-6A) – including at least one point in all six games. Dupuis has always played well against the Islanders – especially at home. In 16 career home games against New York, Dupuis has accumulated 16 points (6G-10A) and a plus-11 rating. Those numbers include the only hat trick of his career on Dec. 11, 2008 in a 9-2 Pittsburgh victory.
  • James Neal led the Penguins with five goals in six games last year, while Dupuis and Evgeni Malkin tied for the lead with six assists. Josh Bailey led New York with nine points (2G-7A), while Kyle Okposo had a team-high four goals.
  • Penguins D Brooks Orpik led the team with nine blocked shots against Ottawa on Sunday night. That’s the most blocked shots any Penguin has registered in one game since blocks became an official statistic in 2005-06. The previous high was eight, achieved most recently by Orpik on Nov. 23, 2011 against the St. Louis Blues

Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen went awkwardly into the boards on a hit from Milan Michalek late in the first period of Sunday's game in Ottawa and sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game and head coach Dan Bylsma said he would be reevaluated Monday in Pittsburgh.

D Matt Niskanen, lower body

F Josh Bailey, knee (off-season) - 4 games missed (2-4 weeks) - 0 man games (suspended)
F Jesse Joensuu, groin (Off-Season) - 4 games missed (out indefinitely) - 0 man games (suspended)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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