The Penguins face the New York islanders tonight for the second time since their infamous fight-fest on Feb. 11 of last year, a game that resulted in an absurd 346 penalty minutes.
The teams played once more before the end of last season, on April 8. There were a handful of fights, but it wasn’t some a similarly plotted vendetta game by the Penguins.
The question becomes, with the still injury-plagued Penguins actually healthier than when the teams last met, will tonight be another fight night? Or the follow-up tomorrow night?
No, to tonight, and probably not to Wednesday night.
Even if we totally discount the Penguins words that it won’t happen again, the Islanders are now a team who are not looking for a fight: they’re looking for a win.
The islanders currently sit in their customary position at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with a 3-3 record. They have also played the fewest games in the division, tied with New Jersey, so their poor standing isn’t really a proper indication of their ability.
The Isles are a young, talented team. Since the two teams last met, they received an injection of talented, veteran presence, most importantly from top defenseman Mark Streit and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who will start in goal tonight.
In February, the Islanders were managing their own injury problems, and felt they had been slighted in a previous loss to the Penguins, one in which Brent Johnson KO’ed Rick DiPietro. They believed the Penguins taunted them and flaunted their superiority late in the game, and the brawl fest that followed in the rematch was their illogical reaction to this.
As absurd and embarrassing as the whole thing was, there was a legitimate reason for the Islanders to drop the gloves: to send a message that they weren’t a doormat anymore.
Now, this season, they’re trying to send another message: that they can compete.
John Tavares leads a talented group of young forwards who showed their budding offensive chops last year. He, Matt Moulson, P.A. Parenteau, Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau each recorded over 20 goals, with Grabner and Moulson eclipsing 30.
The pair of contests will have a physical edge to them, this much is sure. Last season’s absurdities ensured that. And that physical edge could lead to the gloves dropping, probably more-so than your average game.
But the Penguins know their job is to continue accumulating points, and the Islanders know that theirs is the same. Taking all four points from this home-and-home series would do a better job of thumbing a nose at the opposite side than anything else.
At this point in the season, with everything to play for, it makes little sense to sacrifice bodies and health for some flawed notion of retribution.
Then again, few things Trevor Gillies does make sense.