Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Game Preview: Islanders and Pens renew rivalry tonight

The bell will sound at 7 ET tonight in Long Island. Bring out Michael Buffer. "Let's Get Ready To Rumble!!!!!" Cue classic 2Unlimited "Get Ready For This."

Alright. So, maybe we're going a bit overboard about Round One of Pens/Isles at Nassau Coliseum with the rematch Thursday in Pittsburgh. It's well documented what transpired during the last two meetings of '10-11, stemming from a Brent Johnson KO of Rick DiPietro that concussed the unlucky Islander franchise netminder. The Islanders didn't take too kindly to laughter on the Pen bench, earning revenge on the scoreboard and everywhere else by routing them 9-3 and literally beating their old Patrick division rival up. When it was over, 15 fights, 10 game misconducts, 20 misconducts and a combined 346 penalty minutes that would make Reggie Dunlap and The Hansons proud resulted in suspensions for Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin, along with a $100,000 fine.

In retrospect, the Islanders overreacted. Jack Capuano should've called the dogs off in the third because the message was sent loud and clear. Instead, E-Z target Max Talbot got what was coming along with any other Pen they went after. It was ugly. Even if you enjoy Slap Shot, it went overboard, which had to have Gary Bettman shaking.

For me, it’s not even a rivalry, it’s just another game because obviously the last two games we didn’t play a full 60 minutes, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing right now,” Capuano told NYIslanders.com.
His club must focus on getting back on track after dropping two in a row. Consecutive losses to Tampa (4-1) and Florida (4-2) have the Islanders back at .500 (3-3-0) entering a home-and-home against a team they haven't historically done well against. The Pens own a 19-4-2 record over the last 25 meetings. John Tavares, Al Montoya, Mark Streit and Co. will be looking to change that trend in a year they're expected to compete for the playoffs. The Isles have plenty of weapons but a few aren't chipping in. More is needed from Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, who have yet to score a goal with only an assist coming off the stick of Okposo, who's expected to break out. It's time.

The Pens amaze under last year's Jack Adams winner Dan Bylsma, who has his team in first with a 6-2-2 mark. Sure. They've played more than anyone else but it's very impressive minus Sidney Crosby and game-time decision Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh continues to be hampered by injuries with key defenseman Zbynek Michalek out four to six weeks with a broken finger. A look at the Pen injured list reminds of what's plagued the Isles over past seasons. Tyler Kennedy is also out with a concussion along with four other Pens joining Michalek and Sid The Kid, who continues to get ready.

It will still be a stiff challenge with Jordan Staal (5-3-8) leading the way along with James Neal (8 goals), Kris Letang (7 assists) and Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-2, 2.13 GAA, .930 Save Pct). Keep an eye on Matt Cooke, who's stuck to offense instead of thuggery. Plus Matt Niskanen and Chris Kunitz can't be overlooked. In other words, the Pens are more than just their stars. On another team, Staal would be one.

Will the teams stick to hockey or will it have the same edge we had last year? Steve MacIntyre is as tough as they come if Gillies needs a partner. Arron Asham is always game if Matt Martin wants to go. Fasten your seatbelts!

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