The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins meet in Pittsburgh tonight with each playing the second end of a traveling back-to-back: Pittsburgh won via shootout in Toronto last night, while the Isles finished a 3-2-2 seven-game homestand yesterday afternoon with a 5-2 victory over the Capitals.
Nabby Starts Again
For the Isles, the only lineup decision of note is starting 37-year-old Evgeni Nabokov in goal on consecutive nights for the first time this season. There's no absolute science to this, though overall goalie numbers tend to be weaker on the back end of back-to-back occasions. Kevin Poulin's only start since replacing Rick DiPietro as backup this season came in the second half of a back-to-back.
Jack Capuano told media he made the decision with an eye toward the three days off the Isles have this week before their next game, and no doubt with the proverbial "on a roll" in mind:
Capuano: 3 day's rest ahead, so I'm not hesitant to start Nabby back-to-back. But I've got no reservations about putting Poulin in. #Isles— NYIslanders (@NYIslanders) March 10, 2013
Of course, the real worry isn't that a goalie has recovery time after a back-to-back; it's that he didn't have recovery time in between the two starts in two days.
But those are decisions along the margins of win probability. Ultimately tonight rests on one of the East's best teams executing against one of the East's many average teams. The Penguins asserted themselves to create two two-goal leads last night in Toronto, then erred in coughing that lead up and needing the breakaway drill to take the two points.
But their the Penguins, they tend to escape situations like that more often and not, and that's why they have just eight regulations losses in 25 games this season. As it was when these teams met twice back in January, the Atlantic still looks like Pittsburgh's division to lose, with all of their Atlantic brethren possession clear flaws.
Will they have Evgeni Malkin in the lineup? That news (and other lineup updates) won't come until 4:30 p.m. when Dan Bylsma addresses media. Malkin was kept out of OT last night as a precaution due to an upper body injury.
A guy who is definitely playing: Andrew MacDonald, despite taking several licks last night. As Newsday's Arthur Staple put it:
Andrew MacDonald blocked an Ovechkin shot in 3rd that cracked boot of his skate. Next shift: stick to face, 7 stitches. He'll play tonight.
This is the third of five meetings in 2013 for these two teams, and the Isles have a feel-good result in the file from the first meeting: A thorough 4-1 victory in Pittsburgh that was just a garbage-time goal short of a shutout.
This will be Michael Grabner's 200th NHL game. [Insert ice time lament here.] All but 20 of them have come with the Islanders.
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