Isles, Pens begin home-and-home between top Metro clubs

( – The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division will kick
off a home-and-home series Friday, as the New York Islanders visit the first-
place Pittsburgh Penguins for a clash Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh has won three straight games and enters Friday’s matchup with a
three-point lead over New York for the division lead. The surprising
Islanders, who have 24 points on the season, have won six of their past seven

The Penguins are 10-1-0 in their last 11 games, with the lone setback coming
in a 5-0 road loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 11. Pittsburgh hopes for a
better result against the NHL’s other New York club, and with victories in
four straight and eight of the last nine encounters with the Isles, the Pens
have an excellent chance to pick up their 14th win of the campaign tonight.

Pittsburgh is 1-0 against the Isles this season, taking a 3-1 home decision on
Oct. 18. Patric Hornqvist had two goals and assist for the Pens, who have
claimed four of five and 17 of their past 20 home games against the Isles.

“They’re the top team in the division right now, and if we have a productive
weekend, we could change that,” Isles forward Josh Bailey told his team’s
website. “It’s big for us. It’s a good test for us, and we want to have a
better effort than we did last time in Pittsburgh.”

The Penguins are coming off Tuesday’s decisive road win over the Montreal
Canadiens, who lead the Eastern Conference in points. Pittsburgh used Marc-
Andre Fleury’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season en route to the 4-0
win over the Canadiens.

Fleury turned aside all 27 pucks to silence the Montreal offense. The veteran
goaltender had five shutouts in 64 games all last season.

“I don’t think I’ve had this many early in any season,” Fleury said. “It says
a lot for our team playing pretty solid, by being defensive and not giving the
opposition too many chances. That makes it easy for me.”

Beau Bennett totaled a career-high three points on a goal and two assists,
with Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter and Sidney Crosby providing one marker each
for the Penguins.

Fleury has started 14 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this season, but backup Thomas
Greiss could see action in this home-and-home series as the clubs are set to
meet Saturday on Long Island. Fleury is 20-7-3 with a 2.47 goals against
average in his career versus the Islanders, while Greiss is 1-0-0 with a 1.98
GAA in three appearances — one start — in this matchup.

The Isles had a five-game winning streak snapped Saturday in Tampa, but Jack
Capuano’s club was able to exact revenge for that loss in Tuesday’s home test
against the Lightning.

New York dropped a 5-2 decision in Tampa, but won by the same score in the
rematch at Nassau Coliseum. Cal Clutterbuck, Mikhail Grabovski and Ryan Strome
tallied in the second period to turn around a tie game and cruise to the win.

Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas also lit the lamp for the Islanders. Kyle
Okposo and Frans Nielsen each contributed two assists while Jaroslav Halak
came up with 26 saves.

“I think we did a good job of digging in and ramming our game down their
throats,” said Clutterbuck.

Halak is 3-4-1 with a 2.27 GAA in seven career starts against Pittsburgh,
while backup Chad Johnson has never faced the Pens. It’s uncertain who will
get the start in Friday’s home-and-home opener.

Pittsburgh is 6-2-0 as the host this year and the Isles are 7-4-0 on the road.