Coming back east off a tour of California where they won two of three, the Pittsburgh Penguins begin a critical three-game stretch tonight on Long Island.
The last time the Penguins faced the Islanders, Head Coach Mike Sullivan had the look of a man who needed a few shots and a cold Iron. After being badly outshot 42-21 in a lopsided 5-1 loss the Penguins coach told reporters that it, “Might have been the worst game of the year.”
Since that December 27th loss, the Penguins have continued the uneven play that has so far come to define their season. They hope the imminent return of starting goaltender Tristan Jarry from injured reserve can help to stabilize a team that finds itself in a six-team battle for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Jarry has played in only two full games since the calendar turned to 2023. When healthy, which has not been often enough, the 27-year-old netminder has been amongst the best in the league with a .921 save percentage. His 10-2 career regular season record and .925 save percentage against an Islanders team that has problems putting the puck in the net and is on the Penguins’ schedule twice in the next four days would be a welcoming sight.
The Islanders, despite their recent blockbuster trade for superstar Bo Horvat, find themselves under heavy fire from the New York media for a lack of desperation after dropping three straight to non-playoff teams.
While putting pucks in the opponent’s net has been an issue for the Islanders throughout the season, keeping them out of their own has not.
Overall, New York ranks eighth in the league in goals against and boasts the fifth-best penalty-killing unit. At home those numbers become even more imposing, they are sixth in goals allowed and first overall in penalty killing.
Conversely, the Penguins’ power play has struggled mightily on the road, dropping from 27% at PPG Paints Arena to just above 16% on the road which ranks 30th in the league.
In what shapes up to be a physical, low-scoring playoff-type game against a hungry Islanders club, Pittsburgh’s star-studded power play must take its show on the road if they hope to separate themselves from the pack fighting for a playoff spot.
Around the League
· The Washington Capitals extended their losing streak to three straight with a 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers Thursday night. The Caps and Cats are now tied for the last wild card in the East with sixty-two points.
· The Detroit Red Wings have quietly put themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a fifth straight win last night over Calgary. The Red Wings are now only two points back from the Capitals and the Panthers for the last wild card. They trail Pittsburgh by only three points for the first wild card.
· Boston continued their bullying of the league with a 5-0 shutout of the Nashville Predators last night. The winner of the pile-up at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for the second wild card will receive the grim prize of going on the road to face a Boston team that has lost only eight games in regulation all season with only two of those losses coming in Boston.