MIDDLETOWN, N. J. — For anyone to say the last few days in Islanders country has not been interesting would be to downplay a number of important events that have transpired. The Isles, fresh off a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers that pulled them into a virtual tie for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, announced last night that defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has signed a two year contract extension to remain a member of the organization. It is the kind of sign that shows momentum is shifting in not only the way fans feel about the organization, but players as well. It certainly is an exciting time to be an Islanders fan as we witness the rewards of tremendous patience and commitment to sticking with a set gameplan on rebuilding the franchise.
This afternoon, the Isles travel to the steel city to take on the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins, they of a 14 game winning streak, 14-4 record at Consol Energy Center and possession some of the best offensive talent in the game. There have surprisingly been no trades to talk about in Pens land over the last two days but they certainly were extremely active the prior three, acquiring Brendan Morrow from the Dallas Stars, Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks and landing the biggest fish thus far, Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames. All for nothing more than some hit or miss prospects and draft picks. Some contend that makes the Penguins the far and away best team in the Eastern Conference and a good bet to represent through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Maybe, maybe not.
Do Penguins Have Bite?
Murray is a good stay at home defenseman and heavy hitter but does nothing to improve the Pens mobility on the back line, especially with Kris Letang hitting the IR list this past week with a broken bone in his foot. Morrow, at 34 years old, is coming off an injury plagued 2011-12 when he scored only 11 goals and has added only 6 in 29 games this year. A gritty hard nosed winger, he has played in 78 playoff games with the Dallas Stars and can bring that intangible. Iginla is a different story. After a remarkable 16 year career in Calgary, the hockey world watched the drama unfold Wednesday evening as the Boston Bruins, clearly offering a better package, were rebuffed by the former Flames captain as he told management he preferred a move to play with Sidney Crosby. Iginla is clearly slowing down at age 35, but when you add a player of his caliber, 516 career goals and 54 career playoff games to your lineup 15 games prior to the playoffs you have to make that move. And when your risk is minimal, even more so.
Iginla has finally made his way to Pittsburgh on Friday, clearing his work visa issues but is uncertain as of this writing to make his debut. Evgeni Malkin, who returned to the lineup in Thursday’s 4-0 win over Winnipeg, is finally healthy again and will anchor the teams second unit. Paul Martin is questionable after suffering an upper body injury and starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is also, said to be suffering from a sore neck.
The Isles, winners of 4 straight on the road and owners of a 10-4-1 mark away from the not so comforts of home, have to feel good right now. They were inconsistent in Philadelphia but still managed to come away with two precious points. That is the mark of a team that continues to mature and learn to win.
John Tavares continues to amaze the entire league with his consistency and remarkably, is still getting better. JT enters today 2nd in the NHL in goals, trailing Steven Stamkos of the Lightning by one. As of press time, there has been no announcement about the lineup, but I would expect to see no changes with Evgeni Nabokov back in goal.
What the Islanders need to look to do today is up the tempo on the forecheck against a suspect Penguins back line, one that might have more trouble than usual moving the puck in transition with the absence of Letang. And generate tons of traffic in front of either Fleury or backup Tomas Vokoun.
In other words, exactly as they did on January 29, when they stunned them in their own building on national TV, 4-1. Today is somewhat of a statement game for the Isles. With such little time left in a shortened season and all the positive things surrounding them lately, its even more vital to keep those good feelings going.
Would a loss set them back where they would not be able to recover? Of course not, but at this stage in the season, momentum has to be created and sustained. Personally, the Pens 14 game winning streak will end today on home ice. You heard it here second (firstly on my twitter yesterday).
LOOSE PUCKS & DUMP INS (via NHL Media)
- Visnovsky’s contract extension is 2 years, 9.5 million dollars.
- Isles are 8-2-3 in1 goal games and 11-3-3 when scoring the first goal of the game. Conversely, they are 5-12 when they fail to strike first.
- After a 4-2-1 January, Isles slumped to 4-9-1 in February. March has been a totally different story as they fought back into the playoff picture at 8-4-1.
- Isles are +4 in 2nd periods this season, their best, while Pens are at their worst in the middle frame at -6. Interesting to see how that plays out today.
- Pens have gone 15-4-1 in their last 20 in the series and 14-2 in their last 16 home games against New York.
- Isles are 1-9-1 when Tavares fails to register a point. JT comes in with a 5 game point streak, 4-1-5 and linemate Matt Moulson is on a 3 game assist streak.
- New York has been tied or ahead in the 3rd period in 28 of 34 games (16-8-3) and are 15-2-2 when scoring 3 or more goals.
- Underrated Thomas Hickey is +10 over his last 18 games and has not posted a minus rating in any game during that stretch.
- 14 games remaining, of which 9 are on the road.
- Matt Martin leads the NHL in hits (166) and Andrew McDonald leads the entire NHL in blocked shots (92)
Enjoy the game today everyone! Let’s go Islanders! See you at the post game.
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