In their first game of 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins return home to square off against the New York Islanders (7:00 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, ROOT, MSG+ 2, TVAS, SN) for the first of four meetings.
The Penguins, according to Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, received some very uplifting news this morning at morning skate that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been activated from injured reserve.
In addition to the activation, coach Mike Sullivan stated that No. 29 will defend the cage. Defenseman Ian Cole will also return to the lineup tonight after leaving the first period in Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings with an undisclosed injury.
Cole will fill in for fellow defenseman David Warsofsky, and forward Scott Wilson will serve as a healthy scratch.
The Penguins ended the 2015 calendar year with a convincing 5-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on New Year’s Eve. That marked them to a 3-1-1 record in their last five games.
Pittsburgh received heavy contributions from four different players, including a two-goal performance from defenseman Kris Letang. Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin notched a goal and two assists each, and Sidney Crosby dented the twine once.
The Islanders currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division, a point ahead of the New York Rangers. They enter winners of two straight after crushing the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 and edging the Buffalo Sabres 2-1.
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Jack Capuano’s squad, coming into this game, will be featured without the likes of goaltender Jaroslav Halak and shutdown defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Halak was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury retroactive to Dec. 21.
Boychuk joined Halak on that list with a shoulder injury he suffered against Buffalo on Thursday. According to Arthur Staple of Newsday, this could keep him out for an extended period of time.
Here are the projected lineups, according to NHL.com Correspondent Wes Crosby.
New York Islanders
Anders Lee – John Tavares – Josh Bailey
Nikolay Kulemin – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Brock Nelson – Mikhail Grabovski – Ryan Strome
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy – Travis Hamonic
Calvin de Haan – Brian Strait
Thomas Hickey – Marek Zidlicky
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Matt Cullen – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary – Nick Bonino – Patric Hornqvist
Kevin Porter – Eric Fehr – Sergei Plotnikov
Kris Letang – Olli Maatta
Ian Cole – Trevor Daley
Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy
Tonight’s Goalie Matchup
With Halak sidelined, former Penguins backup Thomas Greiss will get the start against his former club. Greiss has performed well in both backup and starter duties. He is 11-5-2 with a 2.03 goals against average, a .936 save percentage, and one shutout on the year. Greiss faced Pittsburgh twice thus far in his career, winning both of them while posting a 1.46 goals against average and a .945 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury will play in his first game since being diagnosed with a concussion shortly after a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on December 14. In 25 appearances, he skated away with 13 victories and sports a 2.29 goals against average and .925 save percentage. Fleury has blossomed against the Islanders in his career going 20-9-5 in 36 games with a 2.60 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
Players to watch
John Tavares recorded five points (one goal, four assists) in his last four games and is tied with Frans Nielson for the team lead in goals with 14. In 31 career games against Pittsburgh, he found success with eight goals and 23 points in that time frame.
After failing to tally a point from Dec. 11-16, Sidney Crosby scored three goals while dishing out five helpers in his last six games. No other team has been victimized more by Crosby as he scored 27 goals and 89 points in 50 career games against them.
Keys to the game
Keep the power play hot, hot, hot
In their last game against Detroit, the Penguins converted on the man advantage twice out of three opportunities. The power play is a big key to the success of this team, which has resulted in three wins in their last five. During that span, the Penguins are six-for-17 (35.2%) on the power play. They have a tough task against an Islanders penalty kill that ranks second in the NHL at 87.3%.
Brace yourselves for impact
The Islanders are a very physical team. Forwards Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck sit first and fourth in the league in hits. When they take the body, the team follows suit. The Penguins are not very physical, but a blend of physicality and speed can thwart their opposition.
Take advantage of the situation at hand
The Islanders will be without their best goaltender in Halak and second-best shutdown defender Boychuk. On the blue line, they are relatively thin. If Pittsburgh can expose their defense by getting the puck deep and working the cycle game, then they will solve Greiss and company. Pittsburgh faced adversity over the course of the season when they lost their best players, and now that they have their elite goaltender back, they have a better chance to seal more victories.