NEW YORK — A pair of struggling Metropolitan Division teams looking to avoid losses on back-to-back nights will square off Friday when the New York Islanders host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Barclays Center.
Both teams fell further behind in the jam-packed Eastern Conference playoff picture Thursday, when the Penguins were blanked by the host Carolina Hurricanes 4-0 and the visiting Islanders suffered their fourth straight loss when they could not complete a three-goal comeback in a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The results Thursday should lend some urgency to Friday’s game for both teams. The Islanders (20-17-4) fell out of a tie for the second wild card spot by virtue of their loss and the Hurricanes’ win while the Penguins (20-19-3), the reigning Stanley Cup champions, are three points behind Carolina and one point ahead of the last-place Flyers in the Metropolitan.
Coach Doug Weight hopes the third period Thursday is a sign of things to come for the Islanders, who outscored the Flyers 2-1 and watched Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle get into rare fights after teammate Anders Lee was leveled in the middle of the ice by Sean Couturier.
“I think it’s for the guys to consider that could be the best loss of the year,” Weight told MSG Network. “I think the way we played the third period, we’re really hard to play against. And we have to have that emotion and that level of battle for the rest of the year.”
The Penguins surely had a tougher time finding positives after suffering their second shutout loss of the season. Pittsburgh scored two goals or fewer in each of its last six defeats dating back to Dec. 11.
“At this point, we’re trying to find some spark,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Something that gives us some juice to get back in these hockey games.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored in eight games and has three assists during that span. The Penguins are 5-9 in their last 14 contests.
After Thomas Greiss and Matt Murray started in net for the Islanders and Penguins, respectively, on Thursday, New York’s Jaroslav Halak and Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry are likely to oppose one another in Friday’s game.
Halak’s streak of six straight starts was snapped Thursday. He recorded 33 saves in his most recent appearance Tuesday, when the Islanders fell to the Boston Bruins 5-1.
Jarry earned the win in his most recent start Tuesday, when he stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced before exiting due to a cut in the Penguins’ 5-1 victory over the Flyers. Jarry served as the backup Thursday night.
Halak is 8-5-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .922 save percentage against the Penguins. Jarry was the winning goalie in his only previous appearance against the Islanders on Dec. 7, when he made 23 saves in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 victory at PPG Paints Arena.
This will be the second of four meetings this season. The teams play again in Pittsburgh on March 3 and in New York on March 20.
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