By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Last Game for the Penguins: Saturday, a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers. Despite getting 40 shots on Jeff Zatkoff, the Panthers managed only one goal from Scottie Upshall on a power play in the second period. Evgeni Malkin got a goal and three assists to bring him within one point of Sidney Crosby for the league lead in scoring. Tim Thomas faced 13 shots before being relieved by Scott Clemmensen, who faced nine.
Last Game for the Islanders: Saturday, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. The game featured no scoring until almost midway through the second period when Aaron Volpatti notched one for the Capitals. Cal Clutterbuck and Thomas Vanek scored in the third period to give the Islanders the lead. With less than minute to go, Nicklas Backstrom scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game. Alex Ovechkin ended it at 2:07 of the overtime period. The loss was the Islanders sixth in a row.
Last Time These Two Teams Met: November 22, 2013, a 4-3 win for the Penguins. Chris Kunitz scored two power play goals in the first period. Thomas Vanek answered for the Islanders at 1:46 of the second period. Evgeni Malkin would score his first goal in 15 games, but the Islanders would answer in quick succession with a goal from Colin McDonald and another from Vanek. It looked like the game may go to overtime until Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner at 18:44 of the third period. Jeff Zatkoff faced 35 shots on his way to his second win of the season. Kevin Poulin faced 34 shots for the Islanders.
Last 10 Games for the Penguins: 7-2-1.
Last 10 Games for the Islanders: 2-7-1.
Story of the Game: Evgeni Malkin has been a hot-button topic around Pittsburgh lately. Much has been made about Malkin’s 15-game goal drought. Despite his 14 assists over that span, many were unsatisfied with the center’s production. Since snapping out of his scoreless funk, Malkin has four goals and nine assists in his last six games. He has shot up the scoring leader’s list to second place, just one point behind teammate Sidney Crosby.
The cause for Malkin’s lack of scoring can be tied to his lack of shooting. Countless times this season we have seen Malkin pass up scoring chance after chance to make passes, sometimes forcibly so, to other teammates. Now, Malkin is playing with more confidence and being selfish with the puck in ways that you want to see from an all-world forward. Look at the goal against Florida. Malkin skated with the puck through the neutral zone, used a little give-and-go with Olli Maatta to create space between Florida’s two defenders, and then made Tim Thomas look like a statue as he moved to his backhand for the goal. He made the play look effortless, and that’s something we were not seeing from Malkin as he struggled to score. If the last six games are any indication, the Penguins once again have a one-two punch that will be a nightmare to match up against.
Penguins All-Time Record Against the Islanders: 108-93-22-6.
Player to Watch on the Penguins: Chris Kunitz has 12 points (6g-6a) in his last seven games against the Islanders.
Player to Watch on the Islanders: Thomas Vanek has an eight-game scoring streak where he has 12 points (8g-4a) against the Penguins.