Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (42-22-10, 94 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division) @ New York Islanders (33-29-9, 75 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Western PA market, MSG+ in the NYC area, ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Islanders are returning home after wrapping up a five game road trip (3-2-0) that included wins against the NY Rangers and Carolina. As if playing NYI didn’t have your attention, that should be all it takes to realize the Isles are still the Isles and capable of beating anyone. However, NYI did also just lose 6-1 to St. Louis on Saturday in their last game, so it’s not like they’re exactly always great this season either.
Pens Path Ahead: It’ll be these same Islanders for a final game this season on Thursday night in Pittsburgh coming up next. Then the Pens play @Boston on Saturday afternoon and will finally get to a very well-earned and needed four day break for much of next week over April 17-20.
Magic Number: 4. Any combination of four points earned by the Pens, or lost by the Islanders will guarantee Pittsburgh’s 16th straight trip to the post-season. (So, a regulation win tonight covers it).
Hidden Stat: While even the mention of the name “Islanders” has a negative connotation for Pens’ fans, Pittsburgh has actually picked up points in 13 of its last 15 games against New York (10-2-3), h/t Pens PR.
Season Series: Pittsburgh won the first and so far only meeting of the season 1-0 way back on November 26th, with Kasperi Kapanen scoring the game’s only goal and Tristan Jarry only needing to make 25 saves for the shutout. Really weird scheduling since this is Game #75 and only the second PIT/NYI game. And the Isles are one of two Metropolitan teams that the Pens only played three times this year (along with Carolina). Pittsburgh is playing the other five division opponents (PHI, WSH, NYR, CBJ, NJD) four times a piece.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Lighthouse Hockey
—The Islanders have never really been known for individual skill, and no one is standing out that much this year. Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are having nice seasons, but they are the only players with 16+ goals. With 11 games remaining, there is a pretty fair chance NYI will end up with just those two 20+ goal scorers, which is pretty sad.
—One thing about the Islanders this season — when they are “on” and having a good game, they are really on. Sorokin and Varlamov have combined for 8 shutouts. Only Calgary (thanks to Jacob Markstrom’s nine shutouts) have more team shutouts this season.
Saturday Game Lines
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson -Anthony Beauvillier
Josh Bailey - J.G. Pageau - Kyle Palmieri
Zach Parise - Mat Barzal - Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Kiefer Bellows
Adam Pelech / Ryan Pulock
Zdeno Chara / Noah Dobson
Andy Greene / Grant Hutton
Goalies: Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov
Scratches: Ross Johnston, the defenseman Sebastien Aho
IR: Scott Mayfield, Cal Clutterbuck
—We are seeing the very end of some long playing careers in their final days with Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene aging out. Defender Thomas Hickey, 33, is buried in the AHL and also going to have a tough time finding a contract for NHL play in the future. Otherwise though, the Islanders have 13/14 forwards on the roster under contract next season, besides the youngster Bellows who is an RFA.
Advanced stats matchup
—The Islanders are a very “blah” team right now, incredibly mediocre besides the typically wonderful goalie inputs that are keeping them somewhat afloat as a .500ish team. Otherwise, they don’t really do anything all that well, besides PK and keeping the puck out of the net, which again can be directly traced back to excellent goaltending.
And now for the Pens..
Projected Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust
Evan Rodrigues - Teddy Blueger - Kasperi Kapanen
Danton Heinen - Brian Boyle - Brock McGinn
Mike Matheson / Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Evgeni Malkin (likely suspension)
IR: Nathan Beaulieu (LTIR)
—Total shot in the dark guesses for the lines, with Malkin taking an league imposed break for four games. The Pens should be OK in his expected absence with Crosby-Carter-Blueger-Boyle down the middle.
—Yesterday Radim Zohorna and Anthony Angello were assigned to the AHL. The Pens didn’t practice but Brock McGinn is getting close and without him the team only has 11 forwards, so it’s an educated guess those moves were designed to clear space on the salary cap and allow McGinn to be activated from LTIR.
—It’ll be interesting to see if Pettersson is once again made a healthy scratch in favor of Friedman after the Swedish defender’s miscue on a Nashville goal against. The Pens could opt to go in either direction in net, DeSmith played a solid game on Sunday and though Jarry has played almost all of the non b-2-b games lately, the luxury of having competent goalie play could have the Pens thinking about giving the starter a small break.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby hit 1,400 career points last game, also in a nice round number of his 1,100th career game.
- Crosby’s GWG on Sunday moves him up to 77 all-time, one shy of both Jaromir Jagr and Evgeni Malkin who current share first place in Pens history.
- Crosby’s OT point was his 38th career extra-time point, passing Patrik Elias and Alex Ovechkin for first place in NHL history in OT points.
- Crosby’s 122 career points against NYI (39G+84A in 76 games) marks the most points he has recorded against a franchise.
- Crosby is two goals away from breaking the 30-goal plateau for the 10th time in his career.
- Today marks the one year anniversary of the Jeff Carter trade to Pittsburgh. Carter has 26G+24A in 82 regular season games with the Pens.
- Carter also likes playing NYI, his 48 points (22G+26A) in 52 career games is the most points he has recorded against any one franchise.
- Bryan Rust has a single-season high in points (58) and is approaching the 60 point plateau, for naturally the first time in his career.
- Kris Letang (62 points) is five points away from tying his career-high, set in 2015-16.
- Jake Guentzel (71 points) is also five away from tying a career-high of his own (2018-19).
- Rickard Rakell (8) has the fourth most points in the NHL for players traded at the deadline (Claude Giroux, Andrew Copp and Mathieu Joseph all have 11).