Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-9, 63 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ New York Islanders (27-23-7, 61 points, 6th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m.
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh for the Pens’ viewing market, MSGSN for the home team, ESPN+, SN1/TVAs in Canada
Opponent Track: The Islanders came back from the break last week with two wins (PHI, SEA) but have since lost their last three games. All came against non-playoff teams (0-1-2 against VAN, MTL, OTT) and blowing some leads along the way to put them in a bind. NYI has been up, down and all around this season. Their schedule gets a lot tougher in the immediate times ahead (PIT, BOS, PIT, WPG, LAK, WPG), raising the stakes and importance of the next week or so to very high levels.
Pens Path Ahead: Today starts three games in four days — all against division opponents. After tonight’s road game. the Penguins are back home for three games (tomorrow against New Jersey, and then Monday against these same Islanders). After that, Connor McDavid makes his yearly trip to Pittsburgh next Thursday Feb. 23rd to finish out the Pens’ brief home-stand.
Season Series: This marks the middle half of the PIT/NYI season series over the next few days with the game tonight and then on Monday, The Islanders took Round 1 back on December 27th, in a 5-1 game that Pittsburgh virtually no-showed following the Christmas break. After this week, the fourth and final game of the season series will be in Pittsburgh on March 9th.
Hidden Stat: New-ish Islander Bo Horvat played a career-high 27:49 in NYI’s last game on Tuesday. It was the most ice-time for any Islander forward since Kyle Okposo played 28:20 on April 11, 2010.
Getting to know the Islanders
SBN partner blog: Lighthouse Hockey
Potential Game Lines
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mat Barzal
Zach Parise - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Josh Bailey - Casey Cizikas - Simon Holmstrom
Matt Martin - Otto Koivula - Hudson Fasching
Adam Pelech / Ryan Pulock
Sebastien Aho / Noah Dobson
Alexander Romanov / Scott Mayfield
Goalies: Ilya Sorokin (Semyon Varlamov)
Scratches: Andy Andreoff, Parker Wotherspoon
IR: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Cal Cluttterbuck, Oliver Wahlstrom
—Pageau is a recent addition to the IR list, which is a big loss considering he is the team’s fourth highest point scoring forward. Pageau was said to be day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, and was put on IR retroactive to Feb 11th - which means he could be eligible to be in the lineup on Monday’s rematch PIT/NYI game, should his health permit it.
—It starts in net, with what has to be the best/most talented 1-2 punch in the NHL these days featuring Sorokin and Varlamov. Sorokin has not yet been a Vezina finalist, but that should change by the end of this season. The five shutouts lead the NHL and by any metric he is very, very good at keeping the puck out of the net.
—The Horvat addition (and subsequent contract extension) will be a fascinating one to track. NYI did something similar a few years back by trading for and then extending J.G. Pageau which has been...OK enough, I guess. Horvat moves the needle a little more with his shooting ability, but he’s probably not going to sustain scoring on 20% of his shots like he is this year. It’s a lot of money and a long-time for the second half of a player’s career, and it’s not like NYI is on the verge of being a legit title contender. Weird way to go about it, but no one ever accused Lou Lamoriello of going about things in a conventional way.
—The Pens will have to watch for long-range shots and offense that goes “low to high”. NYI defensemen have combined for 30 goals this season, fourth most in the NHL. Pittsburgh only has 15 total goals from their blueliners.
—The Islanders are the picture of mediocrity offensively speaking. They’re not bad (except on the power play, where not having enough talent has been a problem that shines through for years), but they’re not good either. Horvat should offer some big help in that regard, but he’s also just one player.
—In fact, a stat from the Islanders website: NYI is 5-15 on the power play since the All-Star Break, after hitting the break having gone 3-prior 64. Getting Horvat is already paying dividends and helping them in that regard.
—The curious development for NYI is that they’re not even good in process defensively anymore. Their expected goals against is high, their Corsi against is high — telling us they’re spending more time in their own end and giving up a lot of looks at the net. This has been mitigated big time by having best-in-class goaltending to bail them out. But this Lane Lambert coached Islanders team is not as stingy or appearing to be as attentive to details and limit chances as much as the classic Barry Trotz led teams over the years, and it’s showing instantly..
And now for the Pens...
Thursday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Drew O’Connor - Teddy Blueger - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Casey DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski
Scratches: Danton Heinen, Mark Friedman (upper-body injury), Ryan Poehling (injury)
IR: Tristan Jarry, Jan Rutta
—Poehling has been in and out of the lineup several times since December with the same undisclosed, nagging upper body injury. Just when it looked like he was completely healed and it was behind him (playing in four games in late January, getting the long 10 day All-Star break, and then playing in three games in February coming out of the break), Poehling is surprisingly and disappointingly back on the shelf with what was said to be a recurrence of the same injury. Not a great development that it remains an issue that he’s dealing with, and he was off the ice yesterday and likely will be out for the near-future.
—Joining Poehling in the ‘no practice’ club yesterday was Jarry, who instead attended a scheduled doctor’s appointment to check in on him after the road trip. Sullivan said Jarry will join the team on the trip to NY, so we’ll see how that goes I guess.