Penguins Aim for Season Sweep of Imploding Islanders

Matthew Jordan

Monday, March 19, 2018 5:04 PM UTC

Monday, Mar. 19, 2018 5:04 PM UTC

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had the New York Islanders’ number so far this season, and that’s not likely to change in their final meeting of the year Tuesday in Brooklyn.

Pittsburgh Penguins (87 points) at New York Islanders (70 points)Free NHL Pick: PenguinsBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Busy night around the NHL with 11 games on tap. Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders get things started at 7 p.m. ET in their final meeting of the season. The Pens go for the four-game sweep.

On Dec. 7 in Steel Town, the Pens were 4-3 overtime winners vs. the Isles. Defenseman Matt Hunwick scored at 1:29 of OT. Unlikely source considering Hunwick has just four goals this season. The Islanders had rallied from a 3-1 deficit with goals in the final 4:53. Tristan Jerry was in net for the Pens and Jaroslav Halak for the Islanders.

On Jan. 4, the Pens won 4-0 in Brooklyn as Jerry stopped 31 shots. He was the No. 2 star behind Sidney Crosby, who had a goal and there assists. Daniel Sprong had two goals and an assist. Halak took the loss. Finally, on March 3 back in Pittsburgh, the Pens won 3-2 in overtime. Crosby scored on a 2-on-1 3:48 into OT past Chris Gibson. Phil Kessel made a little history in that one with two assists to become only the sixth American-born player to reach 400 career. Jarry had 25 saves.

Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 in its last nine games against New York.

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Murray Back Tuesday?

The Penguins continue to run neck-and-neck for the Metropolitan Division lead with Washington. Those two play once more on April 1 in Pittsburgh. Evgeni Malkin continues to make a push for the scoring title as he’s tied for second (as of Monday) with 89 points. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov leads with 93. Malkin is third with 40 goals; the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin and Jets’ Patrik Laine lead with 43. Malkin has scored 53 points in 32 games since the start of 2018. The Russian has a goal and two assists vs. the Islanders this season.

Could the Penguins see the return of No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray on Tuesday? He hasn’t played since Feb. 24 due to another concussion but did practice on Saturday. The Pens do play again Wednesday so maybe they hold him out one more day. Murray is 23-13-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Jarry (14-6-2, 2.77 GAA and .908 SV) has been getting the majority of the starts with Murray out. He has allowed at least three goals in three of his last four games, but still has a 3-1-0 record over that stretch.

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Sullivan on Murray rejoining practice: “It’s a big step for him. We’ll see how he responds after today. He's not ruled out for Tuesday.”

— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 17, 2018

This could be the final game in an Islanders jersey against Pittsburgh for Islanders star forward John Tavares, who is going to break the bank as a free agent this summer. Of course, the Islanders want to keep him but there’s going to be a bidding war. Tavares is from near Toronto and might opt to go there if the Leafs can offer enough.

The Islanders are close to being eliminated from playoff contention and have lost 11 of their past 12. Coach Doug Weight tried something fairly dramatic for Sunday’s home loss to Carolina in moving Tavares, usually a center, to left wing on a line with leading Calder Trophy candidate Matthew Barzal at center and Jordan Eberle on the right side. Weight said it could be short-term move depending. Tavares had three assists vs. the Hurricanes. Offense isn’t the Islanders’ problem. Defense is. They are dead last in goals allowed per game – Halak has lost his past eight decisions -- and in killing penalties. Pittsburgh is first on the power play.

Regardless of whether Murray plays, I see no reason not to back the Pens here for an NHL pick. Also helps they are well-rested, not having played since Thursday. New York is in a free-fall and just 4-11-1 over its past 16 at home. The Isles have also dropped eight in a row overall vs. teams with a losing record.

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