-Tonight's game is a study in contrasts. Each squad has problems on defense but for far different reasons.
-The Penguins have the issue of trying to find a way to squeeze eight healthy defensemen into the lineup at the NHL level. Of that group, three are a former first-round picks (Olli Maatta, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik) and one was a Norris Trophy finalists last season (Kris Letang). Combined, the seven defensemen the Penguins are expected to dress tonight, including Deryk Engelland who is expected to be used as a forward once again, have a salary cap hit of $19,385,834, according to CapGeek.com.
The Islanders have the issue of trying to find a way to dress six NHL-caliber defensemen. Only one, Thomas Hickey, was a former first-round pick. Their most expensive defensemen, Lubomir Visnovsky, is sidelined due to a concussion. Brian Strait, a former waiver wire pickup, is sidelined due to an "upper-body" ailment. Of the six defensemen they are scheduled to start tonight, they have a combined salary cap hit of $8,007,143.
-Next time you want to complain about the Penguins, even if they deserve it, just keep in mind that their "problems" aren't as bad as the issues other teams face.
-The Penguins are expected to start Jeff Zatkoff in net tonight. He needs a big rebound after getting scorched by the Panthers two weeks ago. He seems like a pretty even-keeled individual who can shake off a bad game like that.
-There was a little bit of debate over who should start in net with the Penguins facing games on back-to-back nights. We're not sure there was really a "wrong" answer. There are plenty of reasons to start Zatkoff or Marc-Andre Fleury tonight. Fleury definitely has a strong regular season history against the Penguins but the Maple Leafs, Saturday's opponent, have a much stronger offense than the Islanders. Plus, we'd be more comfortable with a veteran in net on the road in Toronto with the hoopla of a Hockey Night in Canada game.
-We're looking forward to seeing Frans Nielsen tonight. He's starting to get a little more attention than usual as he's put up some impressive offensive numbers. He's a wonderful all-around talent who might be a better defensive than offensive player. Sidney Crosby doesn't enjoy playing against him that much.
-Crosby should expect to see plenty of action against the Islanders' defensive pairing of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic. He's had plenty of brilliant moments against them, including his backhanded goal in his 2011 comeback game but MacDonald hasn't been a total slouch against him. If you recall, Crosby's career best 25-game scoring streak in 2010-11 came to an end against the Islanders in a 2-1 shootout loss on Long Island, Dec. 29, 2010. MacDonald put the clamps on him much of that game.
-MacDonald "only" makes $550,000. For a 27-year-old defenseman who is fourth in the NHL this season in time on ice at 26:34, that might be the best bargain in the league. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He will get paid.
-Quite a bit has been made over Engelland being used as a forward. It's hardly an ideal situation but given the team's injuries up front and the apparent lack of faith in Dustin Jeffrey, it's hardly a disaster. Engelland has been adequate in limited usage in that role.
-Dan Bylsma was asked today if an opponent's toughness plays a role in how Engelland is used in this role. Bylsma said he feels Engelland can truly be effective as a forward but admitted an opponent using a tougher player, such as Islanders defenseman Matt Carkner, can influence how Engelland is used. The Penguins face a pretty tough team in Toronto tomorrow so it's easy to see Engelland being used tomorrow as well.
-We're eager to see Cal Clutterbuck in person with the Islanders for the first time. One of the NHL's best third-line energy players, he hits anything in a different jersey. He's a better version of Tanner Glass. We wouldn't be surprised if he crosses paths with Glass tonight.
-Clutterbuck has a talent for getting under the skin of opponents. If you recall, he made former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, normally very composed, flip out a few years ago:
-Our normal assortment of pregame photos will be delayed due to a technical snafu. Our apologies.
-The Penguins' have their stuff packed and ready to go to Toronto:
-Paul Coffey has a fan on hand:
-Mario Lemieux 2002 All-Star Game:
-Given his return tonight, Kris Letang's jersey seems pretty popular:
-The always popular Gary Roberts:
-Fans entering the barn:
-There are a few Islanders fans here. Pierre Turgeon with the Islanders' 20th anniversary patch from the 1992-93 season:
-A complicated relationship:
-Downtown Robbie Brown in "pidgeon logo" form:
-Here's an all-timer. Al MacNeil, the first No. 3 in franchise history:
-Jersey of the Night: Former Penguins/Islanders defenseman Darius Kasparaitis:
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Robert Bortuzzo and Dustin Jeffrey.
-The Islanders' starters are Matt moulson, Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Evgeni Nabokov.
-Their scratches are Eric Boulton, Michael Grabner and Brian Strait.
-It's a Friday night and Jeff Jimerson is doing what he does best:
18:44: A wrister by Nielsen from above the left circle is blocked out of play on a strong backcheck by Jussi Jokinen.
18:35: Jayson Megna (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), on his first NHL shift, puts the body into big Matt Carkner (6-foot-5 234 pounds) in the Islanders' left wing corner and crashes into the ice for his troubles. He showed he wasn't afraid there.
18:11: Clutterbuck coasts up the right wing and flings a wrister on net from the left circle. Zatkoff eats it up for the first save of the game.
16:45: Off a little bit of a cycle by John Tavares in the right wing corner, Kyle Okposo rips a wrister from the right circle. Zatkoff fends it off with his blocker.
15:55: Zatkoff continues to be tested early here. Hamonic takes a pass at the right point, tees up a slapper and puts a shot on net. Zatkoff looks it in all the way and eats it up.
15:43: Carkner flings a tricky wrister at the cage from the right circle. It deflects off a stick and on to the net. Zatkoff is able to fight it off.
14:57: Off a chip pass up the left wing by Orpik, the great Joe Vitale races up the right wing and rips a wrister on net. Nabokov deflects it out of play with his blocker.
14:07: Okposo goes wide on the right wing and flings a wrister at the cage. Zatkoff eats it up.
13:15: Rob Scuderi corrals a loose puck at the left point and whacks a one-timer on net. Nabokov steers it away.
12:54: Off a nifty give and go with Malkin off the right wing. Jokin has chance int he right circle but is stripped of the puck at the lat minute by MacDonald. Great play by MacDonald but it was too good. He actually slashed Jokinen. That's two minutes. Malkin, Kunitz, Crosby, Kris Letang and Paul Martin take the ice.
12:41: Casey Cizikas races up the right wing short-handed one-on-one against Paul Martin. Martin does a great job to fend him off the puck.and regain possession.
10:59: Off some fancy one-touch passing Kunitz and Malkin, Crosby whips a heavy wrister from the right circle. Nabokov eats it up.
10:41: Hickey collects a loose puck at the left circle and snap off a tricky wrister. Zatkoff makes a snazzy gloves save. Niskanen is nabbed for hooking against Cizikas. Rob Scuderi, Dupuis, Orpik and the great Joe Vitale take the ice.
9:46: The Islanders ash in. Tavares controls the puck at the right circle and deals a pass to the slot. Nielsen is able to redirect the puck whis forehand on net. Zatkoff makes the initial save but allows a rebound. Moulson has position on Scuderi and is able to whack the puck into the back of the cage with a great effort. Heck of a goal by Moulson, a former Penguins prospect. Fire Ray Shero. Nielsen and Tavares get assists. Islanders 1-0.
8:38: The Penguins get another power play as Josh Bailey is called for hooking. Paul Martin, Letang, Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz take the ice.
8:11: Paul Martin booms a one-timer from center point high of the cage.
7:43: Another one-timer by Paul Martin from center point is fought off by Nabokov.
6:35: Just as the Bailey minor epires the Penguins strik. Nabokov kicks a rebound to slot where Jokinen is Johnny Jussi-On-The-Spot and swats it into the cage. It wasn't pretty but Jokinen will take it. Sutter and Niskanen get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Islanders 1, Penguins 1.
5:31: Radek Martinek pounds a slapper from the right point wide on the near side.
4:10: Malkin falls on the puck in the New York left wing corner and is mugged by Hamonic. A scrum develops. Play is halted. Nothing comes of it.
3:56: Letang flings a wrister from the right point wide on the near side. Carkner appears to high stick him a bit. Glass goes down in a heap. No call.
3:44: Glass has a chance near the left o the cage off a shot by Megna. Carkner hooks him up before he can do anything. That's two minutes for hooking. Malkin, Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Crosby and Kunitz take the ice.
2:29: Matt Martin steals a puck off Crosby in the neutral zone and pushes it into the Penguins' zone on the right wing. Before he can truly attack the Penguins' net, Letang skates back and steals the puck off him. Great effort by Letang.
2:19: Off a drop pass by Malkin Niskanen booms a slapper form the right point. Nabokov fends it off.
1:44: The Carkner minor is killed with little threat from the Penguins.
0:31: After Glass forces MacDonald into a turnover, Rob Scuderi steals a puck a the New York blue line and pounds a slapper on net. Nabokov eats it up. A scrum develops and MacDonald socks Glass int he face. Glass doesn't retaliate. MacDonald is sent off for roughing. Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz and Paul Martin take the ice.
0:00: End of period. Islanders 1, Penguins 1.
-That was a pretty back and fourth period. The Islanders controlled five-on-five play while the Penguins controlled the special teams simply because they had so many power plays.
-So far so good for Zatkoff. He seemed pretty calm and composed. He didn't battle the puck. If not for a nearly perfect deflection by Nielsen and a great effort by Moulson, he has a shutout going.
-Megna has 2:23 of ice time on five shifts.
-The Penguins' power play has looked pretty stale thus far.
-The Penguins have a 14-8 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins have a 20-15 lead in attempted shots.
-Kunitz leads the game with three shots.
-Okposo leads the Islanders with two shots.
-Letang leads the game with 10:31 of ice time.
-Bylsma suggested Letang's ice time could be limited in his first game back. We suspected the fact that the Penguins have already had four power play has inflated his ice time.
-MacDonald leads the Islanders with 9:54 of ice time.
-The Penguins control faceofs, 17-9 (65 percent).
-Crosby is 6 for 9 (67 percent).
-Cizikas is 4 for 8 (50 percent).
-No one has more than one blocked shot.
20:00: The Penguins will have 1:29 of power-play time on fresh ice. Crosby Malkin, Kunitz, Letang and Paul Martin take the ice.
19:27: A one-timer by Crosby from the right half wall is eaten up by Nabokov.
19:02: Off a feed by Malkin, from behind the cage, Crosby chops a slapper from above the right circle. Nabokov kicks it out.
18:31: The MacDonald minor is killed. The Penguins are no 0 for 4 on the power play. Counting Monday's game against the Avalanche, they're 0 for their past 11.
17:44: Matt Martin corrals a puck on the right wing and snaps off a wrister which Zatkoff eats up.
17:08: Craig Adams air mails a slapper from the neutral zone. Nabokov bats it away.
16:01: Martinek booms a slapper from the right point wide on the near side.
14:04: Defense leads to offense. Matt Donovan whacks a slapper from the left point but fans on the shot. Kunitz steals the puck, pushes it to the neutral zone and deals it to Crosby. Crosby gains the offensive zone on the right wing on a two-on-one against Carkner. As Kunitz drives to the net, Carkner slides down to take away the pass. Crosby takes the shot and rips a wrister under the blocker of Nabokov and into the cage. What a lethal shot. It's Crosby's first regular season goal against Nabokov. Kunitz gets the only assist. The "Hey Song" is always lethal. Penguins 2-1.
13:03: Okposo grips and rips a wrister from the left wing but has hit blocked wide by Orpik.
10:56: Off a wrister by the great Joe Vitale, Engelland re-directs a puck on net whiles battling a check. Nabokov kicks it out.
10:48: Off a neutral zone steal by the great Joe Vitale, Engelland rips a wrister on net from the right circle. Nabokov snags it. Attendance is announced as 18,664. It is the team's 293rd consecutive sellout.
9:58: Adams jabs a sneaky shot from the right circle on net. Nabokov gloves it.
9:34: Clutterbuck flings a wrister from the right circle wide on the near side.
9:15: Bailey has chance on a partial two-on-one against Letang but Letang pressure
8:43: A wrister by Sutter from the right wing is punched out of play by Nabokov.
8:21: Letang flings a wrister from the right point. Nabokov makes the initial save. Engelland is able to jab at the rebound but puts it wide. Another strong effort by Engelland.
7:57: A wrister by Kunitz is blocked out of play by Donovan.
6:45: Orpik booms a loose puck on net form the right half wall. Kunitz battles for the rebound but puts his shot wide.
6:39: Another power play for the Penguins as Moulson is called for hooking Malkin. Jokinen, Niskanen, Sutter, Maatta and Kobasew take the ice.
5:12: Crosby deals a shot/pass from the right circle to the blue paint. Kunitz battles for the puck which Hickey is able to clear.
4:39: Another mostly lifeless power play for the Penguins expires. It's now 0 for 4 tonight.
3:37: Hamonic winds up and cranks a slapper from the right point. Zatkoff fights it off. The rebound trickles to his left. He dives to smother it.
3:06: Adams cranks a slapper from the left point. Nabokov kicks it out despite traffic.
2:34: Kunitz races up the right wing and flings a backhander on net which Nabokov fights it off.
2:20: Off a neutral zone steal by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Nielsen lifts a wrister from the right circle to the far side. Zatkoff is able to eat it up.
1:28: A one-timer by Bailey from the right circle is deflected out of play by Zatkoff.
0:06: Off a steal by Malkin down low, Dupuis booms a one-timer wide of the cage.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Islanders 1.
-The Penguins quietly controlled that period. They controlled the puck for the most part and put quite a few shots on net. Still, they only lead by one goal.
-More of the same from Zatkoff. He's been steady and calm.
-The Penguins' power play has been pretty stale.
-The Islanders' top line of Tavares, Moulson and Okposo has been pretty quiet in five-on five play.
-Engelland had a pretty strong period with three quality scoring chances.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 34-18.
-The Penguins lead in attempted shots, 50-42.
-Kunitz leads the game with eight shots.
-Peter Regin leads the Islanders with three.
-Hamonic leads the game with 20:13 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 17:06.
-The Penguins control faceoffs, 37-16 (70 percent).
-Crosby is 15 for 20 (75 percent).
-Tavares is 6 for 15 (40 percent).
-Orpik leads the game with five blocked shos.
-Donovan leads the Islanders with three blocked shots.
18:38: A wrister by Letang is steered out of play by Nabokov.
15:38: MacDonald flings a wrister from the right half wall wide to the far side.
15:09: From his own zone, Kunitz whacks a pass down ice for Crosby who is sprung loose on a break away. With MacDonald giving chase, Crosby attacks down the crease and tries to go five hole but Nabokov kicks it out.
14:45: off a drop pass from Dupuis, Kunitz rips a wrister from the left circle high over the cage. Crosby has a chance to the right of the net with the rebound but Matt Carkner blocks it. Big defensive play by Carkner.
11:30: Off some one-touch passing by CHuck KObasew, Malkin whacks a one-timer from the right wing.
11:14: Donovan lifts a wrister from the right half wall. Zatkoff snags it.
8:36: Bailey slinks his way up the right wing moves behind the cage and tries to tuck in a backhanded wraparound. Zatkoff holds it out.
8:20: A one-timer by Donovan from the left point is kicked away by the left skate Kobasew who made a nice play to block it.
7:14: The Islanders control th peuc in the offensiv zon and tie the game. Hickey takes a pass at the right point and chops a slap-pass to Nislen in the slot. Nilen re-directs it with his backhand by the glove hand of a sprawling Zatkoff and into the cage. What a play by Nielsen. He's used some variation of that play on each of the Islanders' goals. Hickey and Martinek get assists. Islanders 2, Penguins 2.
6:58: Deryk Engelland. Goal scorer. Taking a pass by Scuderi, the great Joe Vitale hustles up the right wing sneaks a backhanded pass to the slot behind Carkner. Donovan is in la-la land and doesn't account for Engelland who sneaks behind him and tone-touches it into the cage by a helpless Nabokov. What a beautiful goal by the team's fourth-line. The great Joe Vitale and Engelland get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 3-2.
6:05: The Islanders get it right back. After a turnover by Niskane, Bouchar ends up with the puck right in front of the blue paint. He tucks a backhander through the five hold of Zatkoff and ties the game. What in the world is happening? This is insane. Martinek gets the only assist. Islanders 3, Penguins 3.
2:03: After four minutes of stagnant play, Letang has a wrister from the right point blocked by Bailey.
1:50: Letang has a slapper from the right point blocked by MacDonald.
1:40: Wow. The Islanders take the lead. After Letang misplays a puck, Okposo deals a pass from the left circle to Bailey wide open in the slot. Bailey swipes a one-timer which Zatkoff kicks out. Nielsen is all over the rebound and deals a pass to Bailey. Bailey fumbles the puck initially but is able to fend off a check from Kunitz and pokes it by the scrambling Zatkoff to take the lead. Unbelievable. Nielsen and Okposo get assists. Islanders 4-3.
1:00: Zatkoff is pulled for an extra attacker.
0:00: End of game. Islanders 4, Penguins 3.
-Almost a half hour after the game ended, we're still trying to process everything happened in the final 10 minutes. When a goal in the slot by Deryk Engelland is the least improbable thing to occur in a series of events like that, it's a pretty wild game.
-Let's not put try to dress this up as anything other than a complete collapse by the Penguins. They surrendered two leads in the third period to a team dealing with some significant injuries and absences. This should have been two points, or even one. Instead, they head to Toronto with nothing.
-Kris Letang impact on the final goal of the contest was undeniable. He had two shots in the offensive zone blocked. The second led to a possession and rush up ice by the Islanders. Then he made a wrong play by covering Kyle Okposo who was already accounted for by Scuderi. That left Josh Bailey wide open for a multiple chances on net, the last of which he plunked in for the game-winning goal.
-Add in the fact that Letang played a major role on a power-play unit which went 0 for 5, and his return to the lineup was hardly spectacular.
-Letang had 25:20 of ice time on 23 shifts, three shots and two blocked shots.
-We're not sure how Jeff Zatkoff can be fairly judged on that game. Perhaps he could have stolen a goal, particularly the score by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, but he was put in some pretty bad situations by his defense tonight.
-Conversely, Evgeni Nabokov stole a goal which proved to be key. Almost five minutes into the third period, he stopped Sidney Crosby, only the league leader in points, on a breakaway. A goal there makes it 3-1 and probably ices the game.
-Nabokov played a strong game against a strong offensive team. He gave his team a chance to comeback.
-The power play was just ugly. It didn't' seem to have any creativity. The Penguins worked primarily on the perimeter and moved the puck around well hoping to open a few shooting lanes but he Islanders stayed tight and really didn't give the Penguins any looks.
-The Islanders got a goal on their only power-play chance conversely.
-It's hard to argue with Deryk Engelland as a forward after tonight. He had several quality scoring chances and scored a pretty goal off a nice feed by the great Joe Vitale. That's exactly one more goal than Dustin Jeffrey has all season.
-Frans Nielsen had his second consecutive three-point game. He looked really sharp tonight. He had a hand in two goals off deflections int he slot. And in the midst of a completely crazy play, he showed enough composure to set up Bailey for the game-winning goal in a tight space near the cage. He is a very underrated player.
-We're not sure we saw the same chemistry with Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta as we saw with Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo as a third pairing. Niskanen had a poor turnover which led to Bouchard's game-tying goal. Maatta was kind of lost in space defending it.
-It would be a stretch to say Jayson Megna made a huge impact on this game. He did draw a penalty which led to a power-play chance. He had 9:38 of ice time on 13 shifts and blocked one shot.
-Evgeni Malkin's line was non-factor in terms of five-on-five play. Malkin and Jussi Jokinen had a nice give-and-go sequence on a scoring chance but they, along with Chuck Kobasew, generated little else.
-The Islanders effort in this game was even more impressive when you consider how short-handed they were on defense tonight.
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 42-25.
-The Penguins led in attempted shots, 65-60.
-Chris Kunitz led the game with nine shots.
-Bailey led the Islanders with four shots.
-Travis Hamonic led the game with 30:21 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 25:20 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 48-27 (64 percent).
-John Tavares was 10 for 23 (43 percent).
-Brooks Orpik and Andrew MacDonald each led the game with five blocked shots.