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GameThread for New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins, 29 January 2013

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About that top-four, though...

Claus Andersen

Pittsburgh is 3-2 after its first five games. The offense shined in the first two bouts against Philadelphia and New York. The defense finally came around against the Islanders. The Pens are second in the Atlantic with the Islanders hot on their trail.

Matt Niskanen is now out 2-to-4 weeks with a leg injury and no one has any idea if the Penguins can replace his minutes on the top defensive pairing. Sentences that sound strange in Spring 2011.

Simon Despres is the likely candidate to replace Niskanen, having already played some time with Kris Letang and having the highest upside of any of Pittsburgh's bottom-four blue-liners. He's averaging less than 10 minutes TOI when he is on the active roster, however, so top-line duties are going to tell the team a lot about their 2009 first-round pick.

The Islanders are off to a decent start at 2-2-1. Their offense is producing well at 3.6 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL. Conversely, they've surrendered the same 3.6 goals per game, fourth-worst in hockey.

John Tavares paces the club with 7 points in 5 games while Matt Moulson leads with 3 goals. Lubomir Visnovsky is still in a beet field in Russia and top prospect Nino Niederreiter was at the center of trade demand rumors for some time. Tuesday's contest with Pittsburgh will be a good test for the still-young Islanders.

For Pittsburgh, no hiccups. The Pens grew soft against two overmatched opponents in Winnipeg and Toronto and were served 9 goals against for their poor puck management. New York is similarly fast and offensive-minded as Toronto and Winnipeg proved to be.

Continued defensive focus, as the team displayed against a good Ottawa team, will be the key to Tuesday's match with the high-scoring Islanders.