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New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Preview: Vanek, Grabner back; Nelson, Boulton out

One step forward, one step sideways.

"What's that, Niskanen?"
"What's that, Niskanen?"
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The big news for the New York Islanders as they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins is on the injury front: After five games without, and only six games with, they have Thomas Vanek back in the lineup.

The Islanders offense, good enough to compensate for goals against much of the season but faltering recently without Vanek nor power play talisman Lubomir Visnovsky, has been particularly challenged since Vanek left the lineup. His sometime replacement,

(In other injury news, Visnovsky rode a stationary bike today. So there's that. Long road yet, concussion-recovery-wise.)

Islanders (8-11-3, 8th-Metro) @ Penguins (14-8-0, 1st)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
Pensive: PensBurgh

There is other lineup news. With Vanek's re-entrance, one of the guys who did produce in his absence, Brock Nelson, sits. He and Eric Boulton are out of the lineup, replaced by Vanek and Michael Grabner, who was scratched last game for excessive stick-squeezing.

Nelson is a rookie, which is almost as tough a crime as squeezing one's stick too hard, so:

Further, Radek Martinek is healthy and inserted for Aaron Ness.

One more note from the preview: Casey Cizikas the Un-Shooter, discussing his recent splurge of goals (three in three games, after going the first 19 without):

"I found myself kind of watching from the outside and kind of not getting into those greasy areas," Cizikas said. "Those great goal scorers, that's where they get the majority of their goals from, from in front of the net."

After getting only one or no shots in every game but one of the first 19, he logged two or more in each of the last three.

Last vs. First

After each team has taken its turn putting the "blah" in Metropolitan, the Islanders are suddenly last in the Division, though it's obviously quite crowded:

Metropolitan GP W L OT P ROW GF GA Diff Home Away S/O L10 Streak
1 Pittsburgh 22 14 8 0 28 13 63 48 +15 9-3-0 5-5-0 1-0 6-4-0 Won 2
2 Washington 22 12 9 1 25 7 69 63 +6 8-4-0 4-5-1 5-1 7-2-1 Lost 1
3 New Jersey 22 9 8 5 23 9 48 53 -5 4-2-2 5-6-3 0-4 6-3-1 Won 3
4 NY Rangers 22 11 11 0 22 11 46 54 -8 4-5-0 7-6-0 - 6-4-0 Won 1
5 Philadelphia 21 9 10 2 20 9 44 51 -7 5-7-0 4-3-2 0-1 6-2-2 Won 2
6 Carolina 22 8 10 4 20 7 43 63 -20 5-4-4 3-6-0 1-3 4-5-1 Lost 3
7 Columbus 22 8 11 3 19 7 54 65 -11 4-6-1 4-5-2 1-1 3-4-3 Won 1
8 NY Islanders 22 8 11 3 19 5 63 73 -10 5-4-3 3-7-0 3-2 4-6-0 Lost 1

When eye-balling which teams are real threats to keep the Islanders there and which teams are figments of first-quarter fortune (through views like ROWs, goal and shot differential, etc.), something from the Penguins' last game stands out:

The Penguins outshot the Capitals 40-18, with a 34-10 edge in even-strength shots. Including the Capitals' 4-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday in which they were outshot 47-20, the 49-shot two-game discrepancy in shot differential was their largest in almost 10 years, according to

Washington's 35 shots allowed per game, 26th in the League, puts it on pace to allow 2,870 this season. That would be the second-most allowed by the franchise since 1987-88 and the 11th-most among all teams in that span.

If that is not enough, then consider the Capitals have allowed 30 or more shots in 19 of their 22 games this season, a total only the Toronto Maple Leafs can match.

Last time in Pittsburgh, the Islanders were similarly outshot 42-25 but picked up the regulation win with some late drama. Sadly, that recap began, with caution learned through experienced, like so: "Josh Bailey continued what looks through 10 games like a breakout season."

Bailey has not scored in the 12 games since.

Tonight, as on that night, Jeff Zatkoff is in goal for the Pens, who like the Islanders are playing the first of a back-to-back this weekend. May he compensate for any shot deficiencies the Isles have.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here.