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Penguins not overlooking Islanders

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Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils is sandwiched between Andrew MacDonald (No. 47) and Michael Grabner (No. 40) of the New York Islanders during the Islanders home opener at the Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 19, 2013, in Uniondale, New York. Getty Images

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Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 1:44 p.m.

The New York Islanders have the misfortune of participating in a division that includes heavyweights such as the Penguins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils.

Quietly, the Islanders might be moving up in weight class.

Having scored 18 goals in five games — Tampa Bay is the only Eastern Conference team with more goals — the Islanders (2-2-1) will have the Penguins' full attention when the teams meet Tuesday at 7:35 at Consol Energy Center.

“They can fly,” Penguins center Joe Vitale said. “We know we have to be prepared for them.”

Goal prevention hasn't been a specialty for the Penguins this season, though they did play a more controlled game against Ottawa in Sunday's 2-1 victory.

Before then, they allowed 12 goals in a three-game span against the New York Rangers, Toronto and Winnipeg.

Tuesday's game could present even more of a challenge because the Penguins (3-2-0) will be without defenseman Matt Niskanen, who is out two-to-four weeks with an ankle injury.

“We feel like we're a pretty darn good hockey team,” Islanders winger Matt Martin said. “There's no doubt that we are scoring a lot of goals right now.”

The Islanders have been a thorn in the Penguins' side for most of their existence. From two crushing playoff defeats in the pre-Mario Lemieux era, to the 1993 upset of the powerful Penguins, to two setbacks that cost the Penguins the No. 1 seed in last season's playoffs, the Islanders often find a way to cause trouble.

“Always play us tough,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

Many Penguins players admitted to overlooking the Toronto Maple Leafs following a 5-2 loss in last week's opener. Coach Dan Bylsma made it clear that overlooking the Islanders will have consequences.

It remains fresh in the mind of Bylsma and many Penguins players that two late loss to the Islanders last spring went a large way to giving the Rangers — not the Penguins — the Atlantic Division.

Led by talented forwards John Tavares (one goal, six assists), Michael Grabner (three goals, two assists) and Matt Moulson (three goals, two assists), the Islanders are a skilled team.

“Whether people are giving them credit for being good or not,” Bylsma said, “they have good players. They're a very good team. They're dangerous. They shouldn't be overlooked as a quality opponent.”

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