Continuing the precedent of other coaching changes this season, the Islanders denied their former assistant coach Dan Bylsma a victory in his Penguins debut last week. It was the Islanders' first "victory" (shootout) over the Pens this season. Can they play the role of spoiler again?
Their shocking post-trade 4-0 shutout of New Jersey might indicate so. And Pittsburgh -- just four points out of a playoff spot but with time wasting away like Jason Spezza's rep -- is facing plenty of the proverbial "adversity."
New York Islanders (18-35-6, 30th) at Pittsburgh Penguins (29-26-6, 10th/E)
7:30 p.m. | [spherical fruit should-be-Igloo] Arena | MSG+2 (twice the plus!)
Consider: Sidney Crosby has a tender groin (ducks punchline). [Shenanigans Dept.: Crosby also has some football player ripping him. I know! A literate football player?] Anyway, hockey: Kris Letang -- French for "astronaut drink" -- has been thrice-healthy scratched. And the amount of goals allowed makes goalie Marc-Andre Fleury "mad." So get on it, Isles: Shoot. Score. Make Fleury mad. Repeat.
On the bright side for the Pens, the NHL player with the most combined hits and blocked shots is Brooks Orpik, as tallied by Pensburgh blogger Hooks Orpik -- hey, wait a minute...
I said this last week when the Pens split the difference by nabbing a loser point, but if the Penguins can't put away the Islanders, their playoff fate looks uninspiring indeed. I know, "any given Sunday" and all that; but in the Penguins' position, I can't imagine them looking at themselves and thinking, "We're gonna make it" if they can't get it done against the club that is eight points out of 29th.
But if this year is about developing for the future, the Islanders should take advantage of contrived competitive situations like this, where they have a chance to lay waste to a team's playoff chances. The Devils shutout was wonderful -- truly, mind-bogglingly wonderful -- but that was different. The Devils were flat and the Isles had the clarity of focus of a team that just had two of its members shipped off to Canada's capital. Last time I urged the Islanders to wound a rival's playoff chances, they flubbed it. We'll see what tonight brings.
We Islanders fans cry about our 350+ man-games lost to injuries -- and rightfully so. But Pittsburgh has suffered a similar level of too-many injuries, too-little depth this season. There was the Gonchar and Whitney injuries, of course, but even depth replacements like Philippe Boucher have gone down. Apparently, having two of the top five forwards in the game can only cover for so much.
(No, those two forwards aren't top-five, but it's worth a look to see how our two former Islanders wingers are having ... about the season we'd expect. Note that Fedotenko missed time after breaking his hand on Colby Armstrong's face.)
Who starts in goal? Scott Gordon has been mostly rotating, but Yann Danis is fresh off his "first" shutout and has been better than Joey MacDonald (who beat the Pens) lately. Is that and three days off enough to get Danis a consecutive start? Goalie psychologists want to know.
Sounds like lines may be the same, with the Kid Line together, Bergie/Nielsen/Hunter, and Twilight Rental McAmmond centering Sim and Guerin.