Who: New York Islanders (17-9-9, 43 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (17-13-4, 38 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 6:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: SN-PIT, MSG SN, streaming on ESPN+
Pens’ Path Ahead: Last night started a home trend for the Penguins, who play their second home game tonight in a stretch that will see six out of nine games played at home through January 15th. The Pens are back at it on Tuesday night at home against Washington for their first game in 2024, before going on the road for a quick game in Boston next Thursday and then Pittsburgh heads home to host Buffalo next Saturday in the week ahead.
Opponent Track: The Islanders bounced back from their 7-0 whoopin’ by defeating the Capitals 5-1 on Friday night. The third line was the key: J.G Pageau had four points (2G+2A) and Julien Gauthier had a three-point night (2G+1A).
Season Series: After this week where PIT/NYI have met twice, they’ll take a little break from each other for a while. The next Pens/Isles game is February 20th in Pittsburgh and then the teams play for a fourth and final time on April 17th — the very last game of the regular season for both. Could be some major Game 82 implications for one or both squads’ playoff hopes.
Getting to know the Islanders
Projected lines (from Friday night’s game)
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Julien Guathier
Matt Martin - Cal Clutterbuck - Hudson Fasching
Alexander Romanov / Noah Dobson
Samuel Bolduc / Robert Bortuzzo
Mike Reilly / Sebastian Aho
Goalies: Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov
Possible scratches: Oliver Wahlstrom, Casey Cizikas
IR: Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech
—Tough times on the backend with three important defenders all on IR at the same time, including both top pair players in Pulock and Pelech.
—Cizikas missed Friday night with an illness (he was playing last Wednesday against the Pens), we’ll see if he’s fit enough to get back in the lineup today.
—Bortuzzo is big, moves well for his size and has a physical edge so it perhaps should be no surprise he’s had a long NHL career, but the staying power has been impressive for a guy going on 550 NHL games. Bobby Bortz was traded to the Island for a seventh round pick a few weeks ago, ending an eight year run in St. Louis for himself. If you were looking at Pens’ draft picks in the 2006-11 era, there is only a very select handful who have been better players with better careers than Bortuzzo (Jordan Staal, Bryan Rust, Jake Muzzin).
—The Horvat trade addition has paid off for NYI, they needed a skilled top line center who can put up points. He’s fit in well and finally given Barzal a shooter and someone to work off of.
The power kill
Surprisingly, the Islanders’ aggressive PK didn’t burn the Penguins when they met a few days ago, but it remains worthy of mentioning and going over prior to the game.
Holmstrom and then Pageau literally do everything but score on that shorthanded rush. But they do draw a hooking call on Sandin at 9:12 of the second. So #Isles, up 2-0, will skate four on four for seven seconds, then head to their first PP— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) December 30, 2023
Simon Holmstrom currently leads the NHL with five short handed goals. He will get the puck and think offense. The Pens’ power play usually feels shaky at best most the time with their structure, setup and puck management decisions. It will have to be on point today against Holmstrom and the rest of the opportunistic Islander PKers.
And now for the Penguins
Projected lines (from last night’s game)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith - Evgeni Malkin - Drew O’Connor
Radim Zohorna - Lars Eller - Valtteri Puustinen
Jansen Harkins - Noel Acciari - Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang
Ryan Graves / Erik Karlsson
John Ludvig / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Alex Nedeljkovic (Tristan Jarry played yesterday)
Potential scratches: P.O. Joseph, Vinnie Hinostroza
IR: Matt Nieto (lower body injury), Bryan Rust (week-to-week injury)
—The Penguins have no morning skate today coming off their 4-2 win over St. Louis last night. Coach Mike Sullivan will meet with the media at 4:00pm, other than the goalie situation one would presume last night’s lineup will look a lot like what Pittsburgh will be going with again tonight.
Rakell getting his season going
Rickard Rakell had a poor start to the season and then took a month to recover from an injury from November 19 - December 18. Since returning a couple weeks ago, Rakell’s gotten back to looking like his old self that scored 28 goals and 60 points last season. Per Pens PR:
Rickard Rakell enters tonight’s game riding a four-game point streak (2G-3A). A point tonight would give Rakell his first five-game point streak since a six-game point streak from Feb. 27-Mar. 8, 2021 (5G-7A).