The Pittsburgh Penguins made an NHL-record 47-point leap last season to finish second in the Atlantic Division, leaving a first-place finish as the goal heading into this season.
So far, they’re headed in the opposite direction.
The Penguins try to avoid matching their longest losing streak from all of last season as they host the division rival New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh (7-10-1) jumped to 105 points in 2006-07, finishing two back of New Jersey for the division title, after two straight 58-point seasons. However, inconsistent goaltending and shoddy defense have been problems lately, resulting in a 1-6 record this month and a fall into last place.
A 3-2 defeat to the Devils on Monday was the fourth straight loss overall for Pittsburgh, which did not drop more than five in a row during all of 2006-07.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who tied for third in victories among goaltenders last season with 40, has gone more than three weeks without winning. He is 0-4 with a 4.42 goals-against average in five appearances since beating the New York Rangers on Oct. 23. He’s split time recently with Dany Sabourin, who has lost three of his last four starts and has given up three goals in each defeat.
The Penguins called up 20-year-old defenseman Kris Letang from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL on Wednesday hoping to shore up their defense and give the team another power-play option. Letang had two goals with the man advantage in his only previous NHL experience, seven games for Pittsburgh last season.
The Pens’ powerful offense, which scored 267 goals to rank third in the league last season, is averaging almost a half-goal less per game in 2007-08.
“It’s easy to look at the way things have gone the last few games and be critical and be negative, but we probably played our best game in the last few (against New Jersey),” said Crosby, who extended his point streak to 17 games. “We deserved to win, but it didn’t happen.”
The Islanders (9-5-0) may not feature the flashiness of the Penguins’ two young offensive stars, but they are off to a better start than last season.
New York was just 6-6-2 going into its 15th game in 2006-07, but went on to make the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed before losing to top-seeded Buffalo.
“Last year the players didn’t know me and I didn’t know the players,” said Islanders second-year coach Ted Nolan. “We probably started building that trust halfway through the year. We built upon that at the start of this year with the strong leadership of (Mike) Sillinger, (Brendan) Witt, (Richard) Park and all the guys from last year. With new guys we brought in this year, the adjustment has been much quicker.”
One of those new acquisitions, Mike Comrie, leads the team in scoring with 15 points. Comrie, who signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, has seven of his points on the power play, where the Islanders have converted 22.2 percent of their chances to rank among the league leaders.
New York is nearly as strong on the penalty kill, denying opponents 85.2 percent of the time when down a man.
The Islanders had won six of seven before falling 3-2 at Philadelphia on Monday.
This is the first meeting between these division rivals in 2007-08 after splitting eight meetings last season.