NEW YORK — There may not be a team in the NHL that needs a win more than the New York Islanders. A desperate Islanders team is going to meet an angry but wounded opponent Friday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Barclays Center for the second meeting this season between the Metropolitan Division rivals.
The Islanders (5-8-3), who reached the second round of the playoffs last spring for the first time since 1993, will enter Friday with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference. New York has lost three straight (0-2-1) and six of seven (1-3-3) this month.
In the Islanders' most recent game, a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a rapidly emptying crowd of 12,498 chanted for the firing of head coach Jack Capuano, who appeared to be making a case to stay by using some variation of “it's on me” three times during his postgame press conference.
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“I have to find the right combinations for us to find some offense,” said Capuano, whose team is 2-8-3 when scoring three goals or fewer. “We've been able to do it in the past. I have faith in myself and our coaching staff to figure it out. But we have to find a way to get some offense.”
Capuano tinkered with the top line during practice Thursday, when center and captain John Tavares was flanked by Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey. Tavares has a team-high five goals this season while Strome and Bailey have scored twice apiece.
The new-look Islanders will get quite a challenge Friday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (10-4-2), who suffered their worst loss in almost six years in falling to the Washington Capitals, 7-1, on Wednesday.
“We were embarrassed out there tonight, all of us,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday night. “It's humbling when you go through it. My hope is that we learn from it and make sure it doesn't happen again.”
Pittsburgh last lost by at least six goals on Feb. 2, 2011, when the Islanders routed the Penguins 9-3 at Nassau Coliseum.
“Our team as a group tonight, we weren't ready to play,” Sullivan said. “And we can search for solutions tactically, but sometimes this game is more about will than it is about skill.”
Not only did the Penguins lose the game, but they potentially lost two key forwards for Friday's game.
Rugged wingers Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz could both miss the game. Both are day-to-day, with Hornqvist dealing with a concussion and Kunitz dealing with a lower-body injury. Their availability won't be determined until Friday's morning skate.
The Penguins also waived Tom Sestito on Wednesday in order to give themselves flexibility should they need to make a call-up or two on Friday afternoon.
The Islanders have had an uncanny knack this month for running into teams coming off lopsided losses. Of New York's six losses in November, five have come against a team that lost its preceding game by more than two goals.
“I'm sure they'll be well-prepared no matter what the circumstance,” Tavares told Newsday following practice on Thursday.
The Penguins won the first game of the season between the teams on Oct. 27, when they beat the Islander 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena. The game Friday marks the first of two trips to Barclays Center this month for Pittsburgh, which visits again Nov. 30. The season series concludes March 24 in Pittsburgh.