Who: New York Islanders (5-4-1; 11 points, 6th in Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (6-1-2; 14 points, 1st in Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: On TV locally in Pittsburgh (AT&T Sportsnet), New York (MSG Network), Sportsnet in Canada; also the free game on NHLTV
Special!: The Pens hold a collection tonight and certainly will be honoring and memorializing the victims of violence over the weekend in the mass shooting. We also have a pledge drive for the Tree of Life synagogue that you can learn about here.
Opponent Track: NYI has been road warriors in October - tonight marks road game #8 on the season (they’ve only played three games in NY so far). They enter tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak taking both games of a Saturday-Sunday stretch; first pants-ing the Flyers 6-1 in Philly (HA-HA!) and then traveling to Carolina and beating the Canes 2-1.
Pens Refresh: The Pens are also hot, returning home after a four game Canadian roadie that saw Pittsburgh win all four games and outscore the competition by a combined and astonishing 23-6 mark. The last game out was Saturday night in Vancouver, white-washing the ‘Nucks 5-0.
SBN Team Counterpart: Lighthouse Hockey
Tale of the Tape
Last year NYI surrendered a league-high 296 goals against, so bringing in new coach and well-known defensive guru Barry Trotz was designed to tighten up the defense. The results have been good thus far, but perhaps not because of coaching. The Islander goaltending has been phenomenal early in the year at keeping pucks out of the net, but they’ve seen a ton of shots and have some of the worst shot-based possession metrics in the NHL. The process there isn’t looking great but they have shot their way out of it with a high shooting percentage.
Looking at the above chart, I would probably guess NYI would have a better record than 5-4-1 and that might be a lost opportunity later in the season. I mean, how long are they going to have top-3 in the league shooting AND goaltending play? Will that bubble burst? Probably seems that way in the long run, but in hockey teams can ride the wave of good results on a shaky process for a while and so far they have been. Might have needed to make a little more hay than only collect 11 points in the standings in the first 10 games given the excellent PDO they’ve had.
But, that said, I’m guessing if you asked most Isles fans, they would be pretty pleasantly surprised a month ago if you told them they’d be 5-4-1 through 10, so it’s all perspective.
The Pens are still giving up a ton of shots themselves, but solid goaltending of late has taken their league ranking in goals against/game from the 20s last week up to 12th currently (that’ll happen when you give up just 1 goal in the last two games). Pittsburgh was plagued by shooting % problems last season as we all painfully remember but those memories are way in the past with the team absolutely filling the net right now at 5-on-5 and on the power play.
Player stats at a glance
—Sans John Tavares, it’s been a team effort early this season for the Islanders. Eight players already have 2+ goals and 14 different players have found the back of the net. No one has more than 5 goals or a modest 11 points in the ten games played. (On the flip side, the Pens have four players with better points/game than the NYI scoring leader). So no real huge standouts, but everyone is doing their part with a balanced and impressive offensive effort so far.
—And again, the goaltending has been key. Former Penguin Thomas Greiss is in his fourth season with NYI and bouncing back nicely from last year’s .892 save % season last year. Robin Lehner has finally escaped Buffalo and is also playing very, very solidly to start this season with numbers above his career average.
Anthony Beauvillier - Mat Barzal - Jordan Eberle
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey
Andrew Ladd - Valterri Filppula - Leo Komarov
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Tom Kuhnhackl
Nick Leddy / Ryan Pulock
Thomas Hickey / Scott Mayfield
Adam Pelech / Johnny Boychuk
—In last game’s win vs Carolina 2-1 it was Lee (1g+1a) and Bailey (0g+2a) the most important factors in putting the puck in the net on all the goals created. So keep an eye on that 2nd line as a group that is playing pretty well together at the moment.
—Beauvillier, 21, is almost their version of a Daniel Sprong player - young and talented but unestablished and trying to make his mark. Though listed as first line, he only plays 12-14 minutes per game generally and has but one goal and no assists on the season. Still, he’s a creative player and getting chances with Barzal whose the best playmaker on the team so they will have to be accounted for. Beauvillier scored 21 in the NHL last year, but coach Trotz has shown again and again in Nashville and Washington that young forwards who aren’t great without the puck aren’t going to get huge roles on his team.
—The signing of guys like Filppula and Komarov were widely mocked in the internet land, but both have gotten off to good starts. Filppula though is cooling, starting the season with all 6 of his points in the first 6 games and now point-less in the last four games.
—Former Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl actually got waived after training camp, no one claimed him but the Islanders decided to keep him with the NHL team. He’s been a healthy scratch in 7 of the 10 games to start the season, though he did play the last game out and it looks like will be in the lineup for his first game as a visitor to the team where he won two Stanley Cups.
Nick Leddy is a key player for the Islanders, and his October hasn’t been very smooth.
If you like analytical looks at players, read the whole thing at Lighthouse, it’s very good!
But, the fact remains that there are some legitimate red flags to take away from the first few games of the season. Yes, the Islanders have had a tough schedule - including a four game West Coast road trip out of the gate. And yes, the Islanders’ roster is not as skilled as it once was. Still, to see Leddy’s game disintegrate to the point where it is right now is cause for — at the very least — conversation. The understanding that he is not producing points, not generating shots, and allowing more shots than he ever gets that conversation started.
Power play looking for paydirt
NYI’s power play hasn’t gotten rewarded as much yet as perhaps it should. (Then again with how they’re shooting a 5v5 so far, it’s probably a decent enough trade).
There has been some criticism of the Isles’ power play early on, but the underlying numbers for 5v4 rates are encouraging, as the Islanders are top-5 (of all 31 NHL teams) in SOGs rate, scoring-chance shot attempts rate, and high-danger scoring-chance shot attempts rate (this last one is basically shots from Lee-territory, as we’ll see below).
Yet NYI finds itself 23rd in the league in terms of actual goals-for rate. They have been somewhat unlucky on the power play. Here is a GIF of all of the locations of unblocked shots NYI’s first unit (common players) has taken on the power play. These are courtesy @pflynnhockey. You can find all of his interactive NHL charts HERE.
And now for the Pens
Since this is a blog filled with Penguin information, I’m looking at new and interesting things to fill here. Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
(from Monday practice)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Riley Sheahan - Matt Cullen - Patric Hornqvist
Bryan Rust- Derek Grant - Daniel Sprong
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Jack Johnson / Chad Ruhwedel
Letang banged up
In the most serious news, Letang left Monday’s practice early for what was called precautionary reasons. Coach Mike Sullivan said his #1 defenseman has “a lower-body nagging injury” following what looked like a knee-on-knee collision last game against Vancouver. Obviously his status and availability looms massively large considering the rest of the defense still has some work to do.
—Derick Brassard did not skate yesterday and will miss his second game in a row tonight with a lower body injury.
—Simon is up to a nice six points in nine games following his really nice pass to set up Crosby for a goal last game. With Brassard out, the search for a Crosby-linemate continues and really there’s no better option at this point than Simon.
—The bottom 6 looks like it was pulled out of a blender. Sheahan and Rust on the left wing? Cullen at center? Ok, sure. Doesn’t make much cohesive sense, but it’s October and these lines aren’t going to be together for long enough to get too upset about anyways.
Playing for the city
After a 12-day road trip the Pens are happy to be at home, and many players like Sidney Crosby have said this game has taken a lot of significance as they look to play for their adopted home city in the wake of Saturday’s awful violence in Squirrel Hill.
Pittsburgh is #StrongerThanHate. pic.twitter.com/euKeIALa5I— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 28, 2018