Published on February 5th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Precap 10 – New York Islanders
The Pittsburgh Penguins are 6-3-0 on the season, good for first place in the Atlantic Division. Their current three game winning streak was enough to overtake an New York Islanders team that drubbed them a week ago at home.
Pittsburgh faces the Islanders again Tuesday, the last team that handed them a defeat, in another match of division rivals.
The Penguins lead the Isles by three points in the Atlantic, who are coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of Johan Hedburg and the Devils Sunday. Sidney Crosby (3 assists) and Chris Kunitz (4 goals) paced the Penguins in their latest victory, a 6-3 win over the sinking Washington Capitals.
Pittsburgh takes to the road to face the Islanders Tuesday, where they are 5-1-0 on the season.
The Islanders won the first match with Pittsburgh in convincing fashion, taking up cues from the similarly speedy Maple Leafs and Jets and pressuring the Penguins’ best players into making mental mistakes that turned into goals.
The Isles trail the Pens by just three points in the Atlantic and have a game in hand.
Match-Up to Watch
Special teams. The last time these clubs met, the Penguins suffered what is more and more looking like a wake-up call. It took Pascal Dupuis more than 59 minutes to figure out Evgeni Nabokov, the only goal the Pens mustered in a 4-1 loss. In that game, the Penguins went 0-3 on the power play and allowed two power play goals on as many chances, in addition to allowing a shorthanded goal against.
In total, that was a minus-three in special teams situations in which the Penguins held a 3-2 advantage in opportunities.
Pittsburgh’s power play has since improved, albeit slightly, connecting three times in their last 12 chances during the three-game win streak (0-for-8 in previous three games). They scored twice on the man-advantage in Washington Sunday, both markers by Kunitz off pretty feeds by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Islanders, meanwhile, continue to feature some of the best special teams units in hockey. They feature the fifth-best power play in hockey at 29.0 percent success, and the NHL’s third-best PK unit (92.9 percent). They also rank fifth in goals per game at 3.4, but their downfall continues to be even-strength defense, where the Islanders are allowing 3.3 goals per game—24th in the NHL.
It was a special teams battle that cost the Penguins in the last meeting between these clubs, when they were a clean zero percent effective in both situations. Since then, the Penguins have dragged the power play to 25 percent success and the penalty kill to 90 percent over the last three games, all wins.
The Islanders have fared well in special teams play this year, and still aren’t entirely removed from the club that could throw 50 or more PIM onto the ice on any given night. If the game comes to another situational shootout as it did last Tuesday, the Penguins are at a clear disadvantage.
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Boychuk – Malkin – Neal
Cooke – Sutter – Kennedy
Glass – Vitale – Adams
Orpik – Martin
Letang – Despres
Engelland – Bortuzzo
Fleury got the start, and the hook, in the first meeting of the season between these clubs. The box score looked bad for Fleury, but the game tape looked worse for the team in front of him. The Islanders blew the Penguins off their own ice in their first meeting, and Fleury received no help in any of his four goals against.
Tomas Vokoun was called in to replace Fleury in the last meeting. If Pittsburgh goes into Long Island with the same defensive effort its put forth in the last three games, Fleury should see all 60 minutes of action.
The Penguins can expect to face Nabokov again, who has absolutely eaten their lunch in his time with the Sharks and Islanders. Nabokov has won three straight decisions against the Penguins, and stopped all but one shot a week ago. If there’s a book on how to beat the veteran goaltender, Pittsburgh needs to give it a second look.