Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-1, 11 points, 4th place in the Eastern Division) @ New York Islanders (3-4-2, 8 points, 8th place Eastern Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG+ in NYC, also available on ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Islanders have also been caught up in COVID-madness, having Tuesday/Thursday games cancelled this week due to Buffalo’s situation. Currently NYI has no one on the COVID-protocol list. The Islanders are on a five game losing streak (0-3-2) with the last two losses coming last weekend, both in overtime, and both at the hands of Philadelphia.
Pens path ahead: Next week is scheduled to be a light week for the Pens, with only two games: Tuesday @NJD and Thursday again @NYI. We’ll see what New Jersey’s status is for that Tuesday game, though..
Season Series: This will be the first PIT/NYI game of eight scheduled. As mentioned, the next one is 2/11 again in New York. February has a lot of these games, on 2/18 and 2/20 the teams will meet in Pittsburgh, then @NYI on 2/27 and 2/28. The teams finish out the season against each other on 3/29 and 3/30 in Pittsburgh.
Recent History: The Pens are 3-0-3 in the last six games against the Islanders, and 5-2-2 on the road against NYI.
Hidden stat: NYI is 2-0 at home, and just 1-4-2 on the road so far this season. Similarly, the Pens are 4-0 at home and just 1-4-1 on the road.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Lighthouse Hockey for the news about the Islanders
Player Stats at a Glance
—Scoring goals has been a huge issue so far for NYI with just 19 in nine games (2.11 per game, ranks 29th in NHL). The Islanders’ top line has 42% of these goals (8).
Anders Lee - Mat Barzal - Josh Bailey
Dmytro Timashov - Brock Nelson - Jordan Eberle
Michael Del Colle - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Austin Czarnik
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech / Ryan Pulock
Nick Leddy / Scott Mayfield
Andy Greene / Noah Dobson
Possible starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov
Scratches: Sebastien Aho, Ross Johnston
IR: Anthony Beauvillier, Johnny Boychuk (LTIR-retired)
Show me good goaltending...
..And I’ll show you a good coach. The perception between coaching and goaltending is a very interesting one, with coach of the year finalists almost always benefiting from stellar goaltending (then, everyone wonders why said coach is fired within 2-3 years when goaltending performance slips).
Since Barry Trotz came to New York, the Isles have been a master class in defensive play, buying into a solid system and excellent goaltending. With Robin Lehner in 2018-19, NYI was tops in the NHL with a .937 5v5 save%. Lehner left and performance dipped, but NYI’s .923 5v5 save% was good enough for 10th and to keep them in the playoff picture (though they were fading before the season stop) in 2019-20.
Now the very under-rated backup Thomas Greiss has also deparated, and it’s early, but this season’s 5v5 save%? Just 23rd at .910%. Accordingly, NYI is now in last place in the division (though that could change very quickly). But it just goes to show that no goalie magic really lasts forever.
And now for the Pens..
Player stats at a glance
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Drew O’Connor- Mark Jankowski - Sam Lafferty
P.O Joseph / Kris Letang
John Marino / Chad Ruhwedel
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci
Possible starting goalie: Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Colton Sceviour, Kevin Czucman
IR: Zach Aston-Reese, Juuso Riikola, Marcus Pettersson, Evan Rodrigues
Taxi Squad: Alex D’Orio, Maxime Lagace, Anthony Angello, Frederick Gaudreau, Will Reilly
—The Pens might have dodged a bullet with John Marino being removed from the NHL’s COVID protocol list after being on it for just two days. Fortunately for the Pens, Letand and Matheson’s returns look imminent and Marino should play tonight too. The Pens focused so much on the power play on yesterday in practice they barely took line rushes, so it remains to be seen how they will shake out the pairings.
King in the castle, king in the castle
Via Pens PR, it’s always fun to check in on Sidney Crosby and the team he has beaten up on the most in his NHL days:
Throughout his career, Sidney Crosby has played dominant hockey against the New York Islanders. In 67 career games, Crosby has recorded 113 points (36G-67A) against the Islanders, helping Pittsburgh to a 41-17-9 record in those games. He has more than double the amount of multi-point games against them (33) as opposed to games with no points (16), while his 113 total points ranks fourth in NHL history behind Jaromir Jagr (155), Mario Lemieux (131) and Mark Recchi (120).
Crosby’s 113 points versus the Islanders are also the most that any active player has against one single team
3 keys to the game:
- Picking up after the long break.. Neither team has played in a week, due to similar but separate COVID concerns, so at least they’re coming in on even footing. Both of these teams have needed the reset, the Isles for losing five straight, the Pens to get some health and figure out how to have a functioning power play. Which team made the most of their surprise week off, and who is ready to put their best foot forward?
- Suppressing shots. The Pens and Isles have both been stingy defensively, giving up an almost identical amount of shots per game (27.0 to 27.1). Which offense is able to control play and get rubber on the net, being as both teams have been leaky in net (though NYI starter Varlamov has been strong).
- Powerplay struggles..again. 1-for-21 in the last six games while giving up two short handed goals. Along with the mountain of injuries, this is becoming the story of the season for the Pens. They have dedicated significant time to addressing and working on their power play in practice this week. Now it’s time to see if that work and attention from the coaches will actually pay dividends on the ice. The team badly needs it, in many ways. Not the least to get their stars some confidence and have that carry over for better 5v5 play.