The New York Islanders are in the midst of one of the most challenging season-opening stretches imaginable. But coach Barry Trotz isn’t asking anyone — least of all anyone on the Islanders — for sympathy.
The Islanders will look to snap their longest losing streak in more than a decade Friday night, when they are scheduled to complete the first homestand at UBS Arena by hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams were off Thanksgiving after playing at home Wednesday, when the Islanders fell to the New York Rangers 4-1 and the Penguins earned their fourth straight win by beating the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1.
The loss was the seventh straight regulation defeat for the Islanders, who entered this season with Stanley Cup-or-bust expectations after falling to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL semifinals each of the last two years.
But the Islanders began the season with a 13-game road trip — the second longest in NHL history — while the finishing touches were applied to UBS Arena. They were 5-4-2 on the trip before it ended with back-to-back losses to the Lightning and Florida Panthers, a stretch in which a COVID-19 outbreak began within the New York locker room.
None of the seven players placed on the COVID-19 list have been cleared to return. In addition, leading scorer Brock Nelson (lower body) and top defenseman Ryan Pulock (lower body) are out for multiple weeks while another top-six defenseman, Noah Dobson, missed Wednesday’s game and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The Islanders’ lone goal Wednesday was scored by Andy Andreoff, who hadn’t scored in the NHL since Feb. 19, 2018.
The Islanders, whose losing streak is the franchise’s longest since the 2010-11 team lost eight straight in regulation from Oct. 23 through Nov. 10, 2010, have just 12 points and are already 10 points out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot. But Trotz maintained a bottom-line, business-like approach Wednesday night.
“We’ve got to find a way to win a game with a less-than-ideal situation,” Trotz said. “No one’s going to feel sorry for us. I hope we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves — if we do that’s disappointing, but I don’t see that in our group.”
The Penguins’ current surge could provide some solace to the Islanders. Pittsburgh battled a spate of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak — at least eight players have tested positive since training camp started, including Hall of Fame-bound center Sidney Crosby, who missed the first six games recovering from offseason wrist surgery before being diagnosed with COVID-19 in early November — and didn’t string together back-to-back wins once during a 5-6-4 start.
But the Penguins are approaching something closer to good health — star center Evgeni Malkin has yet to play following offseason knee surgery — and have outscored the opposition 15-2 during their winning streak, a stretch in which they’ve trailed just once. Pittsburgh fell behind the Winnipeg Jets 1-0 in the first period Monday before scoring the final three goals.
After neither team scored in the first period Wednesday, the Penguins collected three goals in a span of fewer than 15 minutes and were never seriously threatened by the Canucks.
“I think we’re building,” said Penguins center Zach Aston-Reese, who scored the final goal of the second period Wednesday. “That third period (Monday), we were good from the first shift on. We were able to build on it tonight.”
–Field Level Media