WHEN: March 10, 2013 - 7:00 p.m. | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
The Islanders come to Pittsburgh on Sunday for their third meeting of the season with the Penguins having won three of their last four games and earning at least one point in five straight contests.
The Islanders are right there in the battle for a playoff spot and it’s due in large part to the play of John Tavares. Tavares is coming off a two-goal performance – the 99th and 100th tallies of his young career, both on the power play – Saturday in a 5-2 win over Washington. That gives him a whopping 16 goals on the season, tying him with James Neal and Jeff Carter for second in the NHL. Tavares and longtime linemate Matt Moulson continue to be one of the league’s deadliest duos. They’re both vital parts of the Islanders’ fifth-ranked power play, with Tavares and Moulson tied for second in the NHL with seven power-play goals each.
Tavares and Moulson are familiar foes, but a few new faces have been added to the Islanders lineup since the last time the Penguins played them. Veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky finally joined the team last month after being acquired from Anaheim at the 2012 draft. The puck-moving defenseman is averaging over 3-and-a-half minutes per game on the power play and has been on the ice for 22-of-37 Islanders goals since joining the club. In addition, forward Josh Bailey is healthy again after missing the first 10 games of the season and has slotted in on the second line with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. Bailey, the ninth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, tends to do well against Pittsburgh with six goals and 18 points in 21 career games against.
The Rick DiPietro saga took a big turn when the Islanders placed the struggling injury-prone goaltender, in the middle of a 15-year contract, on waivers in February. They brought up Kevin Poulin from the American Hockey League to back up veteran Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov has been a workhorse to say the least, starting 21 of 25 games for the Islanders. He’s been a rock back there for them, with a respectable 11-7-3 record despite facing the second-most shots against in the league.
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Marty Reasoner - David Ullstrom
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky
Mark Streit - Radek Martinek
ISLANDERS: LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY
For a while there, it seemed like Visnovsky would never join the Islanders after being traded to Long Island by Anaheim at the 2012 NHL Draft. Visnovsky initially sought to void the deal because he believed his no-trade clause with the Ducks remained intact, which an arbitrator told him he could not do. He then did not report to training camp after playing in the Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout, citing “personal medical reasons within his immediate family.” Visnovsky finally played his first game in an Islanders uniform on Feb. 9 and has bolstered the team’s blue line in a big way. He’s made his biggest impact on the power play, with five of his seven points coming on the man-advantage. Considering the Penguins’ struggles on the penalty kill recently, they must be aware of Visnovsky and his abilities to distribute the puck.
PENGUINS: PASCAL DUPUIS
After experiencing a seven-game goalless drought, Dupuis has since scored in two straight games. Dupuis can be a streaky player, so look for him to continue finding the back of the net for the foreseeable future. His line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz is arguably the NHL’s best; they’ve been absolutely dominant the last few games and have been grinding down their opponents something fierce. Give Dupuis credit for working so well with those two and finding the right spots to be on the ice, and look for that harmony to continue Sunday.
Pittsburgh is looking to win five-straight games for the second time this season (Jan. 31-Feb. 7).
The Penguins are looking to improve their home winning streak to four games.
Despite losses in each of their last two home games against the Islanders, the Penguins have gone 13-2 in their last 15 home games versus New York.
Overall, the Penguins have gone 13-4-1 in their last 18 meetings with the Islanders.
Pittsburgh has posted a 7-3 record in its last 10 games dating back to Feb. 17. In those 10 games the Penguins have outscored opponents 42-40 for a combined goals-per-game average of 8.2.
The Penguins have played four-straight one-goal games – all victories. Pittsburgh is 6-1 in one-goal games this season.
This season the Penguins have gone 5-1 on Sundays.
Pittsburgh has posted an 11-3 record in weekend games (Friday-Sunday), versus a 6-5 mark in games played on Monday-Thursday.
On Sunday the Penguins conclude their fourth set of back-to-back games. They have posted a 5-2 overall record in such situations, including a 3-1 mark the first night and a 2-1 record in the second game.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun have posted strong career numbers against the Islanders during their careers. Fleury is 18-7-4 with four shutouts in 29 career starts against New York. At home, Fleury is 12-3-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 17 career starts. Vokoun, who is looking to win three straight decisions today for the first time since Jan. 11-15, 2012 when he played with Washington, has a 14-7-1 career record, 2.08 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 23 games against the Islanders. At home, Vokoun is 10-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and 4 shutouts. His four shutouts against the Islanders are his most against any team.
Kris Letang leads all NHL D-men in points (24) and assists (21), while fellow blueliner Paul Martin places fourth (tied) with 17 points. Their 41 combined points are the most among any two defensive teammates. Letang, who leads all NHL players with nine assists in the month of March, has a four-game assist streak entering Sunday. With an assist against the Islanders, Letang will equal his career-long five-game assist streak – which he posted between Feb. 15-24 of this season. Letang has notched 20 points (2G-18A) over his last 16 games entering Sunday.
The dynamic duo of James Neal (16 goals) and Chris Kunitz (14 goals) has combined for 30 goals – most between any two teammates this season. The Islanders’ duo of John Tavares (16 goals) and Matt Moulson (11 goals) place second with 27. Neal, Kunitz and Sidney Crosby (12 goals) have combined for 42 goals – the most between any three teammates.
After absorbing a hit from big Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk in the third period of Saturday's game against Toronto, Evgeni Malkin took one shift before sitting out final few minutes of regulation, overtime and the shootout.
“He wasn’t sitting out because of his play,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “Just an upper-body injury. Just kept him out the rest of the game there and overtime and shootout.”
When asked if there was a prognosis, Bylsma replied, “Don’t have one (right now). He’ll certainly be re-evaluated. In the game, it was more precautionary than anything at that point in time.”
D Matt Carkner, groin
F Jesse Joensuu, sports hernia
D Brian Strait, fractured ankle
Author: Michelle Crechiolo