What to Watch For: Pens vs. Islanders
Monday, 03.26.2012 / 8:00 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
WHEN: March 27, 2012 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The New York Islanders are on the precipice of being eliminated from playoff contention for a fifth straight year. They’re second-to-last in the Eastern Conference standings, 11 points behind eighth-place Washington and ninth-place Buffalo, and a loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday means the Islanders are officially knocked out.
But though their outlook is bleak, don’t expect the Islanders to go down without a fight. They needed just one point against the Panthers on Sunday to stay mathematically alive, and they rallied twice from deficits to claw out a shootout win – just their third victory in their past nine games – to stay afloat for another few days.
The one constant through all of the Islanders’ struggles has been the play of their top line. Matt Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau were paired together at the start of last season and have been shouldering New York’s offense ever since. The trio has accounted for 81 of the Islanders’ 173 goals (46 percent), with all three players establishing personal bests in at least one offensive category.
Moulson added to his career high total with his 34th goal of the season on Sunday. He’s produced four goals in his last three games and 14 points in his last 14 outings. Moulson is thriving on Long Island, as he became the first Islander to post three consecutive 30-goal seasons since Zigmund Palffy (1995-98) and has also posted career highs in assists (30) and points (64) this season.
Tavares, who has been the set-up man on 22 of Moulson’s 34 tallies, is also having the best season of his young career. The 21-year-old center, who has established personal bests across the board with 31 goals, 44 assists and 75 points in 75 games this season, has 12 points (5G-7A) in his last eight contests. And let’s not forget Parenteau, who has 49 assists this season – a number that’s topped by only five other players in the NHL.
Their goaltending situation has been all over the place this season, with five different netminders seeing time between the pipes. But it’s steadied as of late, with both Evgeni Nabokov and Al Montoya currently healthy and splitting the load as the regular season winds down. Nabokov got the win Sunday versus Florida and may get the nod Tuesday against Pittsburgh, as he’s 8-2 in his career against the Penguins.
ISLANDERS: JOHN TAVARES
Tavares cemented his status as the new face of the franchise when he signed a six-year deal back in September. He’s absolutely the kind of player to build a team around, as he’s an extraordinarily gifted young talent who’s already scary good in just his third NHL season. Though the Islanders are inches from missing the postseason for a fifth straight season, the 21-year-old center put the team on his back and did everything he could to try and make that happen. Tavares has established personal bests across the board with 31 goals, 44 assists and 75 points in 75 games this season. Tavares, who is the first Islander to record over 70 points in a season since Alexei Yashin had 75 in 2001-02, has 12 points (5G-7A) in his last eight contests.
PENGUINS: PASCAL DUPUIS
Dupuis is a veteran that’s been around for years, as this is his 10th season in the NHL. And with a lot of energy, passion and leadership, it’s turned out to be his best one. With a goal and an assist in Sunday’s win over New Jersey, Dupuis extended his point streak to a career-high 10 games – the longest active point streak in the NHL. The winger has eight goals and five assists in that span. Dupuis now has 23 goals and 50 points this season, establishing another new personal best for the forward – breaking his previous high of 48 set nine years ago with the Minnesota Wild in 2002-03.
The Penguins’s victory tonight gives them a season-high 10-game home winning streak dating back to Feb. 21. This streak is the longest active home winning streak in the NHL and equals the second-longest home winning streak in franchise history (Mar. 9-Apr. 10, 1993). Pittsburgh is one win away from tying the longest home winning streak in franchise history (Jan. 5-Mar. 7, 1991).
The Penguins have 27 home victories this season, which is the third-highest single-season home victory total in team history (1995-96, 32 wins; 1992-93, 31 wins).
Pittsburgh now needs three more wins in their last seven contests to reach 50 wins for just the second time in franchise history (56,1992-93).
The Penguins have won 13 consecutive home games against the Islanders since New York’s last win here on Dec. 21, 2007 (4-2) at Mellon Arena. Since that victory the Islanders are 0-11-2 in Pittsburgh. In those 13 games the Penguins have outscored the Islanders, 53-19.
The Penguins have shut the Islanders out four times and have held them to just one goal on three other occasions during their 13- game home winning streak.
Dating back to last season the Penguins have shut out the Islanders in four of the last eight overall meetings between the teams (including 3 times in Pittsburgh).
A win Tuesday by the Penguins would give them six consecutive victories over the Islanders – matching their longest consecutive winning streak against New York (6 games; Jan. 19, 2010-Oct. 15, 2010).
Pittsburgh holds a March/April home record of 16-3-1 against the Atlantic Division since 2006-07. The record includes going 5-0-1 against New Jersey.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy left Sunday's game in the first period briefly, but then returned to the bench. However, he didn’t come out for the second period and did not play the rest of the way. Head coach Dan Bylsma said that Lovejoy suffered a lower-body injury and will be further evaluated Monday.
The Penguins have also been without defenseman Matt Niskanen for the last two games, as he left the team's March 22 tilt against Nashville halfway through the second period with an upper-body injury. The team recalled defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait on Monday (click here for details).
However, Bylsma said before Sunday's game that Niskanen and forward Joe Vitale are "day-to-day. Both of them are doing pretty well. Hopefully, sometime this week (they’ll play)."
Forward Steve Sullivan missed Sunday's game with a lower-body injury. Bylsma said he is expected to be out short term at this point.
Goalie Brent Johnson has been cleared for full practice and participated in his first skate with the team on March 23. Bylsma said when Johnson is healthy, he will be the backup goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury.
G Brent Johnson, undisclosed (16)
D Matt Niskanen, upper-body (2)
F Steve Sullivan, lower-body (1)
F Joe Vitale, upper-body (5)
G Rick DiPietro, sports hernia/knee swelling (39)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo