Pittsburgh Penguins (12-5-3) at New York Islanders (9-10-2)
7 p.m. EST | Nassau Coliseum | MSG+
I normally hesitate to make predictions because I heard psychics were frauds and frankly I stink at telling the future.
So when I thought Joey MacDonald was a risky choice for backup, of course he takes the goaltending reins and runs with them. I thought Josh Bailey would have to go back to junior for asset management alone, and now he's made a strong case for staying. I thought the Adams/Northeast had leaped the Patrick/Atlantic for divisional supremacy, so naturally every Atlantic team goes on a hot streak while Montreal and Buffalo slump. I thought the world would end with that comet, and now I'm still trying to get my apartment back and find that guy who sold me the phony spaceship ticket.
But yeah, the Atlantic Division rises. Pittsburgh comes in having won 7 of 9 -- they're five points behind the Atlantic-leading Smurfs but with four games in hand. The Devils are acting like Brodeur is just taking a rest, no sweat. The Isles have "won" 5 of 6 (intra-conference shootout wins don't fully feel like "wins").The Islanders are doing something right: Vancouver may have looked past them or taken them lightly, but after losing the shootout on Long Island the Canucks won at MSG, Pittsburgh and Minnesota and then beat Detroit at home.
These teams last met -- a shootout win for Pittsburgh -- when neither were playing 60 minutes and the Isles were blowing leads. Things are different now.
FrankD at Penguins blog Pensburgh notes the Pens are making some adjustments to their power play, including dropping Malkin to the point. Both teams are close in PP production -- the Isles are 18th at 17%, the Pens 16th at 18.3% -- but curiously the Pens are much better at home (23.2%), while the Islanders are much better on the road (22.2%).
These teams' PKs are close, too, with Pittsburgh ranking 7th at 84.3% and the Isles ranking 10th at 84.0%. But I think the Islanders PK has been a little lucky lately: Montreal and Buffalo both created chances they really should have buried. The Habs hits posts and didn't score more only because Guy Carbonneau's incessant whining about Mark Streit earned him the karma of one more game of miserable Streit-less power plays.
Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau expressed his sorrow for O'Byrne but threw Streit under the bus, saying he could understand why the home fans would boo a former Canadien for leaving "to take the money" elsewhere. As if the fact that the Canadiens never offered Streit more than $1.2 million per season compared to the five-year deal for $20.5 million he received from the Islanders wasn't a good reason to leave.
Hopefully Pittsburgh doesn't break the Islander PK open with their new look.
Both teams are charging on through injuries. The Isles of course have Witt and Martinek back on the blueline, but they're still without Kyle Okposo, Mike Comrie, Mike Sillinger and -- dammit -- Frans Nielsen. Need I mention Rick DiPietro? The Pens of course still don't have Sergei Gonchar or Ryan Whitney (who is now practicing again). But they've also been without Marc-Andre Fleury lately. Expect Dany Sabourin to get the start.
Scoring and stuff
Old friend Miro Satan is still rocking. His 9-7-16 is the highest non-Malkrosby total on the team. Trent Hunter, who's putting together a nice season, has scored more against the Penguins (9-8-17 in 31 games) than against any other team in his career. And the Pens? They've noticed how the Isles have looked lately. Says Brooks Orpik:
"You just watch the way they’re playing now, as opposed to the way they were playing last time we played them. They have a lot more confidence going their way."
If you're a Pens fan dropping by, Doug Weight has performed as billed and is now 10 points away from 1,000 on his career. Also watch #12 Josh Bailey, a crafty center who at 19 is making a strong case to stick on Long Island after his 9 games are up.
Towering Mitch Fritz should be in the building. Eric Godard, anyone?