|Fading Islanders remain at home to take on Penguins|
NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders will get the first of two consecutive reminders of what once was and what could have been Tuesday night when they continue a five-game homestand by hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Barclays Center.
The Islanders continued their months-long descent toward the bottom of the NHL on Sunday when they fell to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes 4-3. The Penguins last played Thursday when they beat the host Montreal Canadiens 5-3.
While the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (41-26-5) enter Tuesday in the thick of a tight race for first place in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders (30-32-10) are left to wonder how much farther they can sink after losing three in a row and 11 of their last 12 (1-7-4).
The skid has not only dropped the Islanders into last place in the Metropolitan, it could, by faceoff Tuesday, have them as close to last in the entire NHL as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
Such a scenario was hard to envision earlier this season for the Islanders, who appeared to be on the rise after giving the Penguins all they could handle in a 2013 playoff series, advancing to the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom New York hosts on Thursday, and missing the playoffs last season by one point.
"We take pride in what we do," Islanders center Anders Lee said after scoring two goals Sunday. "There's a lot of strong guys in this room. This is pretty painful. It sucks, but we come in and we work hard. We work extremely hard. We just don't have much to show for it, so that's why it feels as bad as it (does)."
The Penguins, meanwhile, are looking to achieve something that has eluded them during their consecutive championships: a division title.
Pittsburgh, which finished second to the Washington Capitals each of the previous two seasons, heads into Tuesday two points behind the division-leading Washington Capitals and two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I just think it's important for us to try to put ourselves in the very best possible position to succeed and that's the way we look at it," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after practice Monday afternoon. "We're going to control what we can. We're going to take each game as it comes and we're going to try to put our very best on the ice each and every game."
For the Penguins on Tuesday night, that could include Matt Murray at goalie for the first time this month. Murray has been sidelined since suffering a concussion on Feb. 26, but Sullivan said he looked good in practice Monday and is a candidate to start against the Islanders.
Pittsburgh has gone 5-3-1 with Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jerry splitting time at goalie in Murray's absence. Jarry had 17 saves in Thursday's win over the Canadiens.
Islanders coach Doug Weight said Sunday that he didn't know if starter Jaroslav Halak or rookie backup Christopher Gibson would draw the start Tuesday. Halak took the loss Sunday when he stopped 35 shots against the Hurricanes.