(Sports Network) - The Penguins have continued to thrive despite the absence of some of their best players. The Islanders may be looking for payback tonight after the Pens injured one of their key starters last week.
New York and Pittsburgh meet tonight at Nassau Coliseum for the first time since Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro was lost for over a month due to an injury sustained in a fight with Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson.
The fight occurred with just 17 seconds left in last Wednesday's 3-0 Penguins victory in Pittsburgh. Johnson caught DiPietro with one left hook to quickly end the bout and sideline the Islanders goaltender for 4-to-6 weeks due to facial fractures.
It was just the latest setback for the Islanders in the crease. Nathan Lawson was already sidelined due to a left knee injury and Evgeni Nabokov has refused to report to the club since being claimed off waivers from Detroit. Kevin Poulin then suffered a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday prior to New York's game with Toronto, forcing Mikko Koskinen into action.
Koskinen gave up five goals on 26 shots in his NHL debut to take the loss, but recorded his first win on Thursday by backstopping a 4-3 shootout triumph over Montreal. The 22-year-old Finn made 37 saves through overtime and then stopped all four skaters he faced in the shootout.
"There was a great atmosphere and it was a lot of fun to win here," said Koskinen. "I'm pretty confident with my shootout skills. We have that in the [American Hockey League] and so I was pretty confident."
New York never led in the game until Kyle Okposo won it with his fourth-round shootout tally. The Islanders rallied three times to tie the game in regulation, getting a pair of goals from Michael Grabner and one from John Tavares to win for just the third time in eight games and move a point past Ottawa for last place in the Eastern Conference.
The Isles now return home seeking consecutive wins for the first time since a three-game run from Dec. 29-Jan. 3, but have lost seven of their last nine at the Coliseum.
New York's 9-13-4 home mark does include a 2-1 shootout win over Pittsburgh back on Dec. 29, but the Penguins are 7-0-1 in the last eight meetings overall.
Johnson was denied credit for the shutout when he picked up a game misconduct for his fight with DiPietro, but could get another chance tonight with Marc- Andre Fleury having made 32 saves in last night's 2-1 overtime victory over the Kings.
Jordan Staal had the game-winner with 19 seconds left in OT, while Brett Sterling had the regulation goal.
"We were pushing the whole game to get a goal and a lot of our chances were more toward the end," said Staal. "We started playing a lot better hockey and we're fortunate to get a nice win."
Sterling was one of four recent recalls from Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the AHL due to a plethora of injuries the Pens are battling. Captain Sidney Crosby has missed the last 15 games with a concussion, while Evgeni Malkin underwent season-ending knee surgery on Thursday.
Forwards Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Aaron Asham are all on injured reserve, winger Matt Cooke served the first contest of a four-game suspension for a hit against Columbus on Tuesday and center Dustin Jeffreysuffered a lower-body injury versus Los Angeles and did not travel with the club to New York for the start of this four-game road trip.
Still, the Penguins halted a two-game slide and won for the sixth time in eight games to remain three points behind the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
Crosby said on Thursday he hopes to play again this season, but a return date is unknown and not guaranteed. Pittsburgh is 9-5-1 over Crosby's 15-game absence.
"I'm getting better. It's just slow," Crosby said on Thursday. "That's the tough part, the progression. Everything is improving, but it's just at a slower rate than I want it to be. Like I said before, it's out of my control. You just hope with time, the quicker the better.