The New York Islanders welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to the UBS Arena. A matchup that hasn't occurred since November 26. Yeah, it's been four months since the Isles saw the Pens.
In that game four months ago, the Islanders were in the middle of an eleven game losing streak. But while it was the Isles vs Pens on the scoresheet, it was more like B-Isles vs Pens on the ice.
Of the Isles's 18 skaters that day in November, eleven of them were NHL regulars due to a COVID outbreak in the team. On the backend only two defensemen were NHL regulars; Noah Dobson and Scott Mayfield. The rest of the lineup consisted of AHL players.
To the Isles credit, and the many AHL'ers in the lineup that night, they only lost the game 1-0.
So while it's going to be the same two teams facing off against each other in name it's going to be quite different - at least from an Islanders perspective - on the ice.
New York Islanders: Three keys to a win vs. Penguins
With that in mind, what should the Islanders consider now that they're facing the Penguins for the first time in months? What should - or shouldn't - do to pull out two points?
1. Goalie advantage
I had a whole "go glove-high" thing worked out because I thought Tristan Jarry was going to be in net tonight. Tuns out, the Isles will face Casey DeSmith instead.
Which gives the Islanders a huge goalie advantage. While the starter for the Isles isn't confirmed yet, it's expected that Ilya Sorokin will start the game. Sorokin holds the 13th best Goals Saved Above Expected in the league (no filters) at 9.7. Casey DeSmith on the other hand sits 72nd with a -3.4.
That kind of plays right into the way the Isles...play. The Barry Trotz system rests on capitalizing on high-danger chances while taking away those of your opponent. Sorokin is one of the better keepers in the league at stopping quality shots while DeSmith is not. If the Isles can win the xGF battle, they, backed by their better goalie, should give themselves a great chance to win.
2. Don't rely on the PP
That's sound advice for any Isles game, but today it's a bit more relevant. Not only because the Isles haven't scored a power-play goal in three straight games, but because the Penguins' penalty kill is the second-best in the NHL.
It's important to state that the Pens are also rarely shorthanded. Only the Sabres and the Isles have been shorthanded less than the Penguins this year. So this game is going to have to be won at 5on5.
3. Score Fist
That might sound like a gimme but, of the 35 games the Islanders have played at home so far they've scored first in 18 of them. They hold a 13-4-1 record when doing so. They're 5-9-3 when they don't score first. Again, strictly when on home ice.
Meanwhile, the Penguins are 16-2-1 when they score the first goal on the road this year. So, to give themselves the best chance at pulling out a win, the Isles will want to score first tonight. Because if they don't, the Penguins will probably win this one.