Penguins, Islanders meet with wild-card chase in focus

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 9:37 PM

It will be a Metropolitan Division showdown with plenty of implications Tuesday when the New York Islanders visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both teams are on the outside looking in as they chase a playoff spot, while each failed to protect leads while losing in a special event game.

And neither team has played all that much lately against division opponents.

The Penguins, who are three points behind the Islanders in the wild-card chase with two games in hand, have not faced a division opponent since a 3-2 overtime loss Jan. 13 at Carolina. Pittsburgh was seven points from the second wild-card spot at the start of play Monday.

The Pengins are 4-6-1 in the interim and most recently have lost four of five. That includes a 2-1 loss Sunday when the Los Angeles Kings came from behind to spoil a big weekend that culminated with a pregame ceremony to retire the No. 68 jersey of former Pittsburgh superstar Jaromir Jagr.

“We can’t afford (these losses),” Penguins winger Bryan Rust said. “That’s the most upsetting part about (Sunday’s loss) — is judging by where we are, we can’t be letting those things happen.”

Those things included getting a goal from team captain Sidney Crosby, who has essentially been carrying the club, and taking that 1-0 lead into the third period. Adrian Kempe then scored twice for Los Angeles, including a short-handed goal with less than five minutes remaining.

“We couldn’t get that goal to put them away,” Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said.

The Penguins, who are blessed with several options on offense, have scored two or fewer goals in four of their past five games. They rank 26th in the NHL with an average of 2.87 goals a game and have converted on just 13.7 percent of their power-play opportunities.

The Islanders had their own disappointment Sunday. They blew a two-goal lead in the third period before falling 6-5 in overtime against the New York Rangers in an outdoor Stadium Series game.

While the power play has plagued the Penguins, it was the penalty kill that tripped up the Islanders as the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad scored the tying goal on a power play with 1:29 left in regulation.

“Those penalties at the end hurt us, but we did a lot of good things,” Islanders coach Patrick Roy said. “When you look at the five-on-five, that’s the hockey we want to play.”

Sunday was the fifth time the Islanders have allowed three more power-play goals, and the Islanders rank last on the penalty kill at 70.7 percent.

“As a penalty killer, it stinks,” Islanders forward Casey Cizikas said. “We take a lot of pride in what we do. … It’s hard. We’re battling. We’re trying stuff.”

The Islanders have been at a standstill as they chase a playoff berth. They are 3-3-3 since Roy took over for Lane Lambert and have gone 4-8-4 in their past 16 games.

The outdoor game against the Rangers was the Islanders’ first against a Metropolitan Division club since New Year’s Eve, when they lost at Pittsburgh 3-1. They went 5-8-5 between those two games.

–Field Level Media