The Islanders go for a season-high fifth straight victory on Tuesday night as they visit the reigning Stanley Cup champions, who may again be without their top two goalies.
After finishing as the NHL’s worst team last season, New York has shown drastic improvement - especially during a 9-2-1 stretch in the last four weeks.
The young Islanders (22-19-8) overwhelmed New Jersey during Monday’s matinee, chasing future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur(notes) in a 4-0 win. They outshot the Devils 46-20 and tightened their grip on eighth place in the Eastern Conference as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“Beating really good teams is huge for our confidence,” forward Matt Moulson(notes) said. “We want to be in position to go down the stretch and be in the hunt. It seems everything is coming together and the whole team is rolling at once.”
While top-10 overall draft picks John Tavares(notes) and Kyle Okposo(notes) continue to emerge for the Islanders, the surprising Moulson scored twice against the Devils to take over the team lead with 19 goals. The 26-year-old left wing had six career goals entering this season.
New York’s last two wins have come with Rick DiPietro(notes) in net after knee and hip surgeries sidelined the veteran for much of the previous two seasons, and Monday’s shutout was his first since a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Feb. 21, 2008.
That game was the Islanders’ sixth straight win, and a victory Tuesday would give the club its first five-game winning streak since.
Pittsburgh’s current situation in net is much shakier, with starter Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) recovering from a broken finger and backup Brent Johnson(notes) still working his way back from a lower-body injury.
John Curry(notes) made his third career start and first of the season Saturday at Vancouver, but was pulled after allowing five goals on 14 shots in 25 minutes of the 6-2 loss. He was replaced by 19-year-old Alexander Pechurski(notes), who was recalled from a junior league on an emergency basis and wore Fleury’s pads.
Johnson practiced Monday, but Curry could get a chance to rebound. Both of Curry’s NHL wins have come against the Islanders. He earned a win in relief against them in his NHL debut Nov. 26, 2008, then started and made 24 saves in a 9-2 victory two weeks later.
“That is what it is all about - getting another chance after a rough game,” Curry said. “I am just eager to get back in there and prove myself again.”
The Penguins (30-19-1) were still pleased after a 3-2-0 road trip, which featured wins at Calgary and Edmonton. They had dropped six of seven entering the trip.
“We were more attentive to the details that make us a good team, and we saw that throughout the trip,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “… Now we have to translate that at home here and make a push toward the (Olympic) break.”
New York beat the Penguins and Johnson 3-2 in the teams’ most recent meeting Nov. 27, but the Islanders have lost five straight at Mellon Arena by a combined score of 23-7.