With all 56 games of this shortened NHL season being within the division, the Islanders are facing each of their East Division opponents eight times. Given the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the NHL protocols in place, there figured to be some scheduling quirks and also schedule adjustments as the season went on.
But a unique part of the schedule that did not come as a result of any changes was the fact that the Islanders were going to play the Penguins six times in the month of February. Four of those games have already been played and the final two will take place on Saturday (7pm) and Sunday (5pm) at Nassau Coliseum. So far, the Islanders have a 4-3 win and a 4-3 shootout loss on home ice as well as a pair of losses in Pittsburgh.
In those two losses at PPG Paints Arena, the Islanders feel like they deserved a better fate, especially in a 3-2 loss on February 20th when the Islanders outshot the Penguins 35-18 and let a 2-1 third period lead slip away.
“Looking back on both of those games, we had a couple of lapses at times,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “But all in all, we played some pretty good hockey and just didn’t get the results. It’s a team we’re obviously very familiar with and had some tight games against them all year so I anticipate the same thing coming up this weekend. Hopefully we find a way to get a better result.”
Coming into play on Friday night, the Islanders have 23 points and reside in third place in the East Division, one point back of both the Capitals and the Bruins who play the Rangers on Friday night. The Penguins are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race, but they are just two points behind the Islanders. It’s going to be a tight race all the way through for the top four spots in the East and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since every game is basically a four-point game, these two games against the Penguins at “The Barn” are crucial for the Islanders to try and create some space in the standings.
“Yeah, these games are big,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “Obviously when you look at the standings, we’ve been fighting for position with them. The past games against them have been pretty tight and could go either way. We’ve liked our game in some of those games but obviously we have to bring our best.”
With Thursday night’s 7-2 win over the Bruins, the Islanders have beaten Boston all three times this season and they’ve handed the B’s three of their four regulation losses. On the other hand, the Islanders haven’t had the same type of results against the Penguins as they let a few points get away from them. Fresh on their minds are the two games last week in Pittsburgh but the takeaway is that they played well enough, especially in the second game.
So, how do the Islanders approach this weekend?
“Same way I viewed the two games in Pittsburgh,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Other than the loss, I didn’t mind the way we played. We just didn’t get the win.”
The Islanders will face the Penguins two more times in Pittsburgh later in the season, but directly in front of them are four big points on home ice during a stretch of nine out of ten games at the Nassau Coliseum. The East Division race is going to be tight all season and at least one good team is not going to make the playoffs. For the Islanders, these two games this week will be a chance to further move up the standings and also get the bad taste out of their mouths from last week in Pittsburgh.