Tonight, on New Year's Eve, the NY Islanders (17-9-9) go on the road for a rematch against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (17-13-4). The Islanders are coming off an impressive 5-1 victory Friday against the Washington Capitals, but that game came on the heels of the most embarrassing loss of the season: a 7-0 home loss to these same Penguins. Thankfully, that loss looks like an aberration- a game best forgotten by the team forever.
On Friday, the Islanders beat the Capitals by a 5-1 score. JG Pageau had two goals and two assists, and Julien Gauthier put up two goals and an assist of his own. Ilya Sorokin had one of his best starts of the season, continuing his recent turnaround. Sorokin had a .910 save percentage in October and a .914 save percentage in November. While Sorokin's save percentage in December is .908, that is misleading; if you remove Wednesday's game against Pittsburgh, Sorokin otherwise has a sparkling .920 save percentage for the month. Sorokin continuing the season at a ~.920 pace would be extremely welcoming for the Isles.
The Islanders have historically been a thorn in the side of the Penguins, frequently ending their dreams prematurely. In 1975, the Islanders became the second team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit in the postseason to beat the Penguins and end their season. That continued through the 1980s and into the 90s, where in 1993, David Volek scored in overtime of Game 7 to wreck the Penguins' dreams of a dynasty. This has continued into the most recent generation, with the Islanders knocking the Penguins out of the playoffs in 2019 and 2021.
The Islanders and Penguins have never particularly liked each other very much, from Darius Kasparaitis and Mario Lemieux to Fight Night at the Coliseum in 2011. Whenever these two teams get together, it promises to be an exciting event!
PLAYERS TO WATCH
NYI: The Entire Lineup. Ok. I'm cheating a little bit. But even if it is symbolic, this is the last game of 2023, and a chance for the Islanders to end the year on a high note. It's been a good year for the New York Islanders organization: a postseason appearance in Spring 2023, the acquisition and extension of Bo Horvat, the long-term extension for Ilya Sorokin, and now the chance to end 2023 in playoff position for the 23-24 season, among other achievements. Tonight is a chance for the organization to put an exclamation point on 2023, and set the stage for 2024.
PIT: The Entire Lineup. Ok. I'm cheating again! But while the Islanders are setting the stage for 2024 coming off a positive 2023, the Penguins are looking to close the book on 2023 forever. From missing the postseason for the first time in 17 years to ending the year towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference, 2024 is going to be a huge year for the Penguins organization. Kyle Dubas took the reins in Pittsburgh promising to maximize the remaining years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, while also not completely neglecting the future. Dubas put his money where his mouth was, acquiring Erik Karlsson this past offseason. So far, the Penguins have not gotten the expected return on that investment, as they sit outside of playoff position. Tonight is one more chance for the Penguins to enter 2024 on a high note as they try to forget 2023 and start playing more competitive hockey.
Anders Lee- Bo Horvat- Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall- Brock Nelson- Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom- JG Pageau- Julien Gauthier
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- Drew O'Connor
Radim Zohorna- Lars Eller- Valtteri Puustinen
Jansen Harkins- Noel Acciari- Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson- Kris Letang
Ryan Graves- Erik Karlsson
John Ludvig- Chad Ruhwedel
Line combinations courtesy of Daily Faceoff.