Season series: The New York Islanders make their second and final visit of the season to Consol Energy Center when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. The teams last met Oct. 25, a 4-3 Islanders win during which they overcame two third-period deficits. Although the Islanders were 0-11-2 in Pittsburgh between 2008 and 2011, they are 3-3-0 in their past six trips, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders and Penguins play twice more at Nassau Coliseum, Dec. 3 and Jan. 23.
Big story: New York was expected to contend for a playoff berth a season after falling to the Penguins in six games in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series last spring. Instead, the Islanders sit in last place in the Metropolitan Division. Although forward Thomas Vanek (upper-body injury) is expected to return Friday, the Islanders remain thin on defense and nearly powerless against the power play. New York's penalty kill is 30th in the League at 71.6 percent.
"There's not a lot left to be said," defenseman Travis Hamonic said after the Islanders' 5-2 road loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. "We had a really good effort against Detroit [a 5-4 shootout win on Saturday], and we come up here and [fell short]. We're not reinventing the wheel here. We just have to go play."
Islanders: Following the loss in Toronto, the Islanders held a closed-door meeting for the second time in 10 days. Things may not be looking up on the Island at the moment, but it's important to note the Islanders were 9-11-2 after 22 games last season before going 15-6-5 in their final 26 games. There's plenty of time for the Islanders to right themselves, but to take a big step forward they must correct their issues in the third period, where they've been outscored 17-4 in their past 12 games.
"We have a lot to prove still and we're still a growing team and we need to find our game on a consistent level," captain John Tavares told Newsday. "[We need to] be better in a lot the gritty areas, things that top teams do really well, and we don't do that enough."
Penguins: Pittsburgh's dominant 4-0 win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday snapped a three-game road losing streak. Sidney Crosby had a goal and assist, and Evgeni Malkin had two assists, but the Penguins' defensive play was the impetus behind the victory. They limited the high-octane Capitals to 18 shots on goal and have allowed just 29 goals in their past 14 games.
"We didn't give up a lot," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We didn't give them opportunities to use their speed and space. I thought it was tough for them to get through there."
New York Islanders
Brock Nelson - John Tavares (C) - Kyle Okposo (A)
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Colin McDonald
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck
Eric Boulton - Casey Cizikas - Matt Martin
Travis Hamonic - Andrew MacDonald (A)
Thomas Hickey - Matt Donovan
Arron Ness - Matt Carkner
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby (C) - Beau Bennett
James Neal - Evgeni Malkin (A) - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik (A) - Paul Martin
Oli Maatta - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
Vanek returns for them tonight. I'm curious to see where they play him, because Brock Nelson has done a very nice job replacing Matt Moulson on the Tavares-Okposo line. Vanek would provide more skill and sniping ability, obviously, but Nelson does a lot of dirty work for that line. I think it's too early to state definitively, but it didn't seem like there was much chemistry between Tavares and Vanek when I watched them together.
For whatever reason, this team exposes our weaknesses. Let's see if the new tweaks (Maatta-Letang, Kunitz-Crosby-Bennett, Dupuis-Malkin-Neal, Gibbons-Sutter-Jokinen) changes things.
Can Orpik play against Okposo the way he played against Ovechkin the other night? Because Okposo has been beastly against us for quite some time now.