Most players are in open auditions to convince management of their value for next season. As a team, the Islanders still want to prove to the rest of the NHL that they may not be as bad as their record and their all-but-certain absence from the playoffs may suggest.
“Yeah, we’ve been trying to do that,” Anders Lee said. “We’ve just been struggling and it’s a hole you’ve got to dig out of. I think we can finish the season strong and set ourselves up as much as we can for next season. That’s where we’re at right now. Just nine games of hard hockey.”
Lee’s power-play goal helped the Islanders to a 4-1 win over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Tuesday night at Barclays Center as they snapped a three-game losing streak.
“It’s been frustrating the last 25, 30 games,” said Mathew Barzal, who furthered his candidacy for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with a goal and an assist, giving him 20 and 55 for the season. “A lot of unfortunate things have happened. We took a turn for the worse and it’s unfortunate because we were cruising pretty good there at the start of the year and things were looking good. There’s a lot of frustrated guys in here.”
The Islanders (31-32-10) remain in last place in the Metropolitan Division and are just 2-7-4 since Feb. 19.
Matt Murray made 36 saves for the Penguins (41-27-5) in his first start since Feb. 23 as he missed nine games with a concussion.
Islanders coach Doug Weight liked the total team effort he received after saying earlier in the day, “This can’t be a comfortable time.”
“Certainly, there has to be some challenges set forth to take these 10 games and to show us something for sure,” Weight said.
Christopher Gibson certainly did, stopping 36 shots after being pulled from his previous start when he allowed five goals on 12 shots in Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the visiting Capitals.
“It was really important,” said Gibson after improving to 2-1-2. “You always want to bounce back when you have a tough game like that. I wasn’t happy at all with the game I played against Washington. I just told myself when I get that next chance, I have to be ready to go.”
The Islanders responded with a strong start, taking a 2-0 lead on Adam Pelech’s one-timer from above the left circle at 10:33 of the first period after Barzal had redirected Johnny Boychuk’s shot to make it 1-0 at 5:10.
Conor Sheary’s one-timer from the right circle brought the Penguins within 2-1 at 17:14 of the second period, but Lee roofed a backhander off Barzal’s feed to the crease for a 3-1 lead at 5:41 of the third period.
Notes & Quotes: Boychuk was okay after taking a puck to the nose in the third period . . . Defenseman Thomas Hickey played his 400th NHL game . . . A banged-up Cal Clutterbuck missed his first game since Nov. 19.