The surging Pittsburgh Penguins are among the Eastern Conference teams that took advantage of the New York Islanders’ inconsistency between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But the Penguins will take the ice Tuesday night knowing they could have done more — recently and far earlier in the season — to create even more distance between them and the Islanders in the playoff race.
The Penguins and host Islanders, jockeying for position in the ever-competitive Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference, return from the Christmas break Tuesday at Elmont, N.Y., in the first game of the season between the longtime rivals.
The Penguins haven’t played since Thursday, when they suffered an overtime loss by falling to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes 4-3. The host Islanders headed into the break with a much-needed win Friday, when they cruised past the Florida Panthers 5-1.
The overtime loss gave Pittsburgh a point for the 11th time in 13 games since Thanksgiving (9-2-2). The Penguins headed into Thanksgiving in fifth place in the Metropolitan and in ninth place in the East. But they begin play Tuesday in third place in the division and three points clear of the ninth-place Islanders, on whom they have two games in hand.
But the Penguins have also left potentially valuable points behind. The goal by Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin 23 seconds into overtime dropped Pittsburgh to 1-4 in games decided after regulation.
The Penguins have 18 regulation or overtime wins, the fewest of any Eastern Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot, and one fewer than the Islanders.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday night. “I think we can be better in overtime. That’s an important element.”
New York, which was in second place in the Metropolitan on Thanksgiving, went 6-8-2 in between holidays.
The Islanders have endured three losing streaks since last winning consecutive games from Nov. 21-26. They capped a four-game streak by beating the Edmonton Oilers on Thanksgiving Eve before knocking off the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers on back-to-back nights.
Each of the Islanders’ last five wins dating to their 5-2 triumph over the Flyers has been by at least two goals. But New York has also suffered five multi-goal losses in that span, including losses to the Flyers, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, all of whom are far behind in the playoff race in their respective conferences.
“I think we’ve done a lot of good things,” Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson told Newsday. “We’ve played some good hockey. The main thing is just bringing that on a consistent basis.”
The Christmas break was a well-timed one for the Islanders.
The team placed right winger Kyle Palmieri (upper body) and backup goalie Semyon Varlamov (lower body) on injured reserve Friday. The Isles played without center Casey Cizikas (upper body) before right winger Simon Holmstrom (lower body) and center Brock Nelson (upper body) were hurt against the Panthers.
Defenseman Adam Pelech (possible head injury) and right winger Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) were already on injured reserve for New York.
–Field Level Media