Two frustrated teams meet Monday when the New York Islanders visit the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Metropolitan Division clash.
The Islanders improved their playoff hopes with a comeback 5-4 win over Pittsburgh at home Friday, but both teams got smacked Saturday.
New York not only fell to the Boston Bruins 6-2, but top-line forward Mathew Barzal left that game because of an injury after he took a hard hit in the first period. The Islanders announced Monday that Barzal will be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
Pittsburgh dropped a 5-2 decision to the New Jersey Devils.
The Islanders-Penguins rematch is important for teams trying to claw their way into the playoffs, but both clubs are out of sorts.
Being without Barzal is far from ideal for New York. He is second on the team with 51 points, first with 37 assists and has meshed well with newly acquired forward Bo Horvat.
“He’s a very important player for us in all different aspects, of course. … There’s a residual effect all the way down the line,” said Islanders coach Lane Lambert, adding that he did not have an update on Barzal.
In addition, injured forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey are not expected to return by Monday, according to Lambert.
So attention turns to Pittsburgh.
“The score (Saturday) is what it is,” Islanders forward Kyle Palmieri said. “We’ve got a big game coming up Monday, so whether it’s circumstance or the way we played, it’s turn the page.”
Even before the recent injuries, New York was struggling to get balanced scoring, with the top six forwards carrying the load.
Pittsburgh has had a similar situation all season, with the top two lines carrying the offensive burden and the bottom two lines mostly tagging along.
“You want to go out there and contribute and help the team win, and when you’re not doing that, it’s tough,” Penguins third-liner Jeff Carter said.
“If we’re not scoring, we need to bring some energy, some sustained (offensive) zone (time), some grind shifts. It’s been real hit and miss for us.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has looked at some different combinations among his bottom six forwards, but nothing has provided a sustained spark.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of combinations; it’s a matter of executing and making plays and putting the puck in the back of the net, which we haven’t done,” fourth-line center Teddy Blueger said.
The Penguins’ third line in particular has come under scrutiny, to the point that Sullivan snapped back when asked about getting it going.
“You (reporters) ask me that question every day, and my answer is the same: They have moments when they’ve been good, they have moments when they haven’t been good,” he said Saturday.
Pittsburgh, which has lost three of its past four games, all in regulation, has also struggled with slow starts, giving up goals shortly after scoring and giving up goals late in periods.
Still, in their eyes, the important matchup with the Islanders has to take priority.
“You have to find a way to turn the page quickly and focus on what’s ahead of you,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. “You just need to focus and grab the points we need to have.”
Sullivan announced Monday that No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry will return to man the pipes against the Islanders. Jarry sustained a lower-body injury on Jan. 2.
–Field Level Media