The NY Islanders (16-8-9, 41 points) will open their two-game homestand against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins (15-13-4, 34 points) tonight at UBS Arena.
The NY Islanders are coming off a short road trip that ended against the Carolina Hurricanes. The game started with an ugly powerplay following a hooking penalty on Martin Necas. After having difficulty crossing the blue line, the Isles caught a break on a non-penalty call against Pierre Engvall, leading to Sebastian Aho's first goal of the season. Teuvo Teräväinen answered back immediately to tie the game at 1-1. The Isles continued their best first period since April 12, 2022, scoring twice on goals from Brock Nelson and Bo Horvat to take a 3-1 lead.
The second period opened with an interference penalty on Mike Reilly that led to a Hurricanes Sebastian Aho powerplay goal 9 seconds later. However, Reilly got his revenge, scoring his second goal of the season to take a 4-2 lead. The third period opened with Jaccob Slavin scoring in the first 2 minutes. The red-hot Anders Lee responded quickly, scoring in his third straight game to take a 5-3 lead. Unfortunately, the captain made a mistake with a hooking penalty, leading to Stefan Noesen's 10th goal to cut the lead to 5-4. The final ten seconds gave every Isles fan PTSD to November 30th, except this time, Ilya Sorokin made a great save on Andrei Svechnikov to win the game 5-4.
The Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed their “Christmas Eve-Eve” north of the border at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. The first period featured a total of six penalties, in which the Penguins went 1-for-4 on the powerplay with Lars Eller’s fourth goal of the season. Joshua Norris continued his comeback season with two points in the frame to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 lead. The second period was no different for either team with four penalties called. While neither team took advantage, Brady Tkachuk and Erik Brannstromboth scored to give Ottawa a 4-2 lead. The Penguins made their comeback, however, with Drew O’Connor scoring right away in the third period. Kris Letang followed in the final minutes to tie it 4-4. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they never had a chance in overtime as Tim Stutzle scored in the first minute to win it for Ottawa 5-4.
The Islanders are yet to face the Penguins this season, though they will see them twice before the calendar turns to 2024. The last matchup came on March 9th at PPG Paints Arena with both teams vying for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. Following an interference penalty on Evgeni Malkin, Lee would score his 25th goal to hand the Isles a 1-0 lead. Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker struck back before the period could end, giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The game felt distant heading into the third period after Josh Archibald scored in the second. However, the 2022-23 Islanders never quit mid-game and began their comeback with five minutes left. Hudson Fasching continued his breakout season, scoring his 5th goal with Lee following in the final minute, sending the game to overtime tied 3-3. In very spectacular fashion, Sorokin took his dominance to another level with a great cross-ice pass to Nelson, setting up an Islanders 4-3 victory. With this win, the Islanders swept the Penguins in 2022-23 going 4-0-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Islanders captain has found his groove, scoring goals in three straight games. Overall, the Isles top line including Lee, Horvat, and Barzal were all a +3 against Carolina. Though the second line has been dominant on offense, their defense has struggled having been on the ice for five of the last eight goals given up. Noah Dobson has racked up a ton of ice time, averaging over 28 minutes per game in December. The penalty kill still has much to be desired, only going 2-for-4 on Saturday.
On the Penguins side, Crosby at age 36 is becoming the Tom Brady of the NHL, having 19 goals and 16 assists in 32 games this season. Tristan Jarry and Nedeljkovic have made a great goaltending tandem, having a .915 save percentage. Erik Karlsson has brought his dominance to the Eastern Conference, having six goals and 16 assists. While their defense led by Letang and Marcus Pettesson ranks 8th overall in goals against, their offense is 28th in goals scored. For an Islanders team struggling on the penalty kill, this should be a favorable matchup if the offense can put the puck on net.
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom - J.G. Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom
Hudson Fasching - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Samuel Bolduc - Robert Bortuzzo
Mike Reilly - Sebastian Aho
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith – Evgeni Malkin – Valtteri Puustinen
Radim Zohorna – Lars Eller – Drew O’Connor
Jansen Harkins – Noel Acciari – Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson – Kris Letang
Ryan Graves – Erik Karlsson
John Ludvig – Chad Ruhwedel