PENGUINS (7-2-0) vs. ISLANDERS (3-3-3)
Season series: This is the first game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins since Pittsburgh eliminated New York in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series this past spring. The Penguins took three of four games from the Islanders in the 2012-13 regular season.
Big story: The Islanders and Penguins are both looking to bounce back from losses in a pivotal Metropolitan Division matchup.
Islanders: The Islanders sit five points back of Pittsburgh in the division race, but with just one win in their last six games, they could be looking at a considerably larger deficit. Since beating the Phoenix Coyotes 6-1 on Oct. 8, New York has gone 1-3-2 despite a four-game homestand in which they scored an average of 2.66 goals per game.
In their last game, the Islanders let an early two-goal lead slip away before falling in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks. Considering the production and the competition, one point in the standings isn't a disappointment, but captain John Tavares acknowledged that as a litmus test the loss showed New York still must bridge a gap with the League's elite.
"I don't think we played too bad the first two periods," Tavares said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a few times there and let them get back in it and take the lead right before the third. I thought we did a lot of good things the first two periods, but mental lapses ended up in the back of our net."
The Islanders will be playing Friday night without forward Michael Grabner, who is serving the finale of a two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head on Carolina Hurricanes center Nathan Gerbe.
Penguins: The Penguins opened the season on the short list of likely Stanley Cup contenders and so far everything is going according to plan. Pittsburgh won seven of its first eight games before being shut out by the Colorado Avalanche 1-0 on Monday. As a result of their strong start, the Penguins are firmly perched atop the Metropolitan Division, though the Hurricanes have kept the race close.
Along the way Pittsburgh has displayed a robust offense, leading the Eastern Conference with an average of 3.33 goals through nine games, though it was stymied Monday by Colorado's Jean-Sebastien Giguere and one of the NHL's top penalty-killing units.
"Going 0-for-7 on the power play, we had plenty of opportunities there, had plenty of good looks," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think there were three or four the guys would like to have back."
In spite of the shutout, offense hardly appears to be a concern for the potent Penguins, but they might get stronger on the back end Friday night. All-Star defenseman Kris Letang, who has not yet played this season due to a lower-body injury, has been practicing and could return against the Islanders.
Who's hot: Matt Moulson has four goals and three assists in his last four games for the Islanders. … Prior to the Penguins' shutout loss on Monday night, Sidney Crosby had reached the score sheet in all eight games this season, with seven goals and 10 assists.
Injury report: Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) was recently placed on injured reserve. … From pittsburghpenguins.com: head coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday that Letang will “most likely” make his season debut on Friday. Forward Matt D'Agostini practiced Thursday, but is not eligible to return from long-term injured reserve until Saturday. Both James Neal (upper body) and Beau Bennett (lower body) did not practice Thursday and are on injured reserve.