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NHL Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins: Opposing Players To Watch This Weekend

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6 Opposing Players The Pittsburgh Penguins Must Watch For

Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins will play their second set of back-to-back games this weekend, taking on the New York Islanders on Friday night, and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, with the Maple Leafs game on the road.

This is the first time that the Pens have encountered either team, meaning that Friday night will be the first time the Penguins and Islanders have matched up since their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals’ series last postseason. The Pens won in six games, but not before the Islanders gave them everything they could handle, having the series tied at two games apiece after four games.

The Penguins have owned the head to head record over the last three years against the Islanders, but as the playoffs have shown they have not, and will not be a pushover by any means. Who could forget their infamous matchup that produced an Islanders 9-3 victory, not to mention over 300 penalty minutes.

Or who could forget Brent Johnson’s epic one-punch takedown of Rick Dipietro that forced the goaltender to miss time with a knee injury. No doubt the Islanders’ game has started to elevate to one that could rival the Philadelphia Flyers-Penguins rivalry. The playoff series could even further it.

The Penguins don’t share the rivalry with the Maple Leafs that they do with the Islanders, but with plenty of stars on the Leafs, and the game being on ‘Hockey Night In Canada’, it is must watch TV.

In the last three seasons, they have been almost dead even, with the Pens winning six games to the Leafs’ five.

It will be a fun weekend for hockey fans, and a good early test for Pittsburgh, as each team has an element that will challenge the Pens and they will have to fight (if history has any bearing, quite possibly literally at times) for four points in the standings.

Here are three players from both the Maple Leafs and the Islanders the Penguins will have to watch for.

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6. John Tavares

John Tavares
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders captain is currently on a scoring pace that should let him challenge for the century mark, with 11 points in nine games. John Tavares has elevated his game from goal scorer to all around team leader and it will be essential for the Penguins to shut down Tavares if they are to win. Tavares scored his first career goal against Pittsburgh and has 13 points in 22 career games.

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5. Frans Nielsen

Frans Nielsen
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to lose Frans Nielsen in the shuffle with such players as Tavares, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, but Nielsen has been one of the team’s better secondary options in previous seasons and has grown into a well-rounded pivot. Nielsen finished 11th in the Selke Trophy voting (best defensive forward) last year. So far this season, he is currently skating stride for stride with Tavares for the team lead in points.

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4. Travis Hamonic

Travis Hamonic
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The owner of a new seven year $27 million extension due mainly to his play in the Penguins-Islanders series, Hamonic made a name for himself as a tough, physical shutdown defenseman. Currently third on the team in blocked shots, and second in time on ice, Hamonic gave the Pens’ forwards fits at times and will look to do so again by getting inside their heads and frustrating them.

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3. Jonathan Bernier

Jonathan Bernier
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

A former first-round pick, Jonathan Bernier had been long thought as one of the better backups in the league, a potential starting goaltender who was stuck behind Jonathan Quick. With Quick settled in for the next decade as the Los Angeles Kings' goalie, Bernier was traded to the Maple Leafs. Even a change in scenery proved a cloudy picture as to whether he would be the starter or not. James Reimer was thought to be the goalie of the future, but now the two was set to split time with each other. With Reimer’s injury however, it has pushed Bernier into the clear cut No. 1 and has the numbers to back up him possibly staying that way. With a 2.12 GAA (12th in NHL) and a .936 save percentage (ninth), Bernier will be a good challenge for the Penguins forwards, most of which haven’t seen him before (Bernier has never faced the Penguins).

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2. Dion Phaneuf

Dion Phaneuf
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Phaneuf was put in almost an impossible position. After a great start to his career with the Calgary Flames, he leveled out his last year or so there before being traded to the Maple Leafs and eventually becoming the captain of the biggest hockey market in the world. So with almost impossible expectations each and every year, Phaneuf has gotten off to a good start this season. Five points in 10 games and a plus-five rating is a good start on the offensive side and his 30-hits (good for third among NHL defenseman) shows his physical play is still there. Phaneuf will get plenty of ice time Saturday night (leads Leafs in ice time), and expect him to be glued to both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as much as possible.

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1. Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most dynamic players in the league, Phil Kessel brings everything to the table offensively. Speed, killer wrist shot (watch his goal against the Anaheim Ducks) and has expanded his game into a playmaking role as well. His 11 points paces the team so far this season, and his 40 shots on net in ninth in the NHL. So expect plenty of shots on net, and the Pens go shorthanded, an eye must be kept on 81 at all times.