PREVIEW: Islanders, Penguins face off after unexpected break

By Field Level Media
Feb 1, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins trips over Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden on February 01, 2021 in New York City. The Rangers won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Stier/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders got an unexpected break this week, thanks to problems within other organizations, and they used the time to better prepare for their meeting Saturday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.

New York has been off since Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss at Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh has been idle since Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers. Each had a two-game set scheduled for this week postponed because of COVID protocol issues with their opponent.

“Just trying to do our best and stay focused and get some good practices in,” Islanders center and leading scorer Mathew Barzal said.

Related: NHL power rankings – Avs reign supreme, Blues bounce back

New York coach Barry Trotz noted that not only did his team get to work on some systematic things, but it also got in some conditioning work, something nearly unheard of during a season, particularly one with a condensed schedule as the delayed, shortened 2021 season has.

The Islanders also got in more preparation time for the Penguins than is usual for an upcoming game.

“There’s some stuff for Pitt, where we talked about some of their tendencies, just implement a drill here or there that might give (our players) a little bit of insight to what we might be up against,” Trotz said.

Both teams used the extra days between games for a mix of practices, including going a little longer than usual at least once, and an extra day off.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan called it “an opportunity for us to try to improve our overall team game in all different areas.”

One thing both teams addressed in their extra practice time was the power play.

The Islanders were 2-for-18 on the power play during a 0-3-2 road trip.

“Obviously, it depends on who we’re playing, how the (penalty killing) is run or how they’re taking away our breakout or what they’re doing in (our offensive) zone that makes it difficult for us,” Barzal said.

“We’ve got to make an adjustment. That’s a little bit on me because at times I’ve tried to do too much.”

Related: NHL games today – Complete TV schedule

Pittsburgh lugs an even bigger power-play problem into the game, as it’s in an 0-for-19 slump despite featuring an assortment of All-Star players.

“We know we are a lot better, and right now we are not getting the results,” said Kris Letang, often the only defenseman on the Penguins’ top power-play unit. “We want to go back to basics and get some good habits in, and you do that by practicing.”

Letang missed Pittsburgh’s last game and is considered day to day after he left last Saturday’s game against the Rangers. However, the unexpected break could well work in his favor. He has returned to practice and could play Saturday.

The Penguins’ defense has been decimated by injuries. Mike Matheson, who has missed the past eight games, also has returned to practice, is day to day and could play Saturday.

Related: Hungry for more NHL news? Tap here for the hottest headlines breaking right now.

Matheson and fellow defensemen, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Juuso Riikola and Zach Trotman are on injured reserve.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh defenseman John Marino, who was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Wednesday, was reinstated and practiced Friday.

Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese also is practicing and could make his season debut after shoulder surgery.

–Field Level Media