NEW YORK — The New York Islanders ended the quirkiest early-season schedule in the NHL by winning three straight road games in a span of four days. Now the task for the Islanders is to produce similar success in their first extended homestand of the 2018-19 campaign.
The Islanders will look to remain hot Thursday night, when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in an early-season battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division at Barclays Center.
It will be the second straight game between the rivals. The Islanders earned a convincing win Tuesday night, when Jordan Eberle scored twice in a 6-3 win over the Penguins.
The victory capped an impressive road trip for the Islanders (6-4-1), who outscored a trio of division rivals — the Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes — by a 14-5 margin. With the win Tuesday, New York (6-4-1) pulled within one point of Pittsburgh (6-2-2).
“Good team over there [and] they [are] going to be ticked off,” Islanders center Anders Lee told reporters following practice Wednesday. “We’re expecting an absolute response and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Eberle said the Islanders are focused on avoiding a letdown as they return home for a three-game homestand. New York, which will face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, played just three home games in October.
“A lot of times you go on the road and you have a good road trip, you come home and you’re a little bit lackadaisical,” Eberle told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve got to be back on the ball [Thursday].”
The Penguins are hoping to get a little more good fortune than they did Tuesday, when the Islanders scored their six goals on just 25 shots. One of Eberle’s goals was scored on a breakaway after he collided with left winger Carl Hagelin.
“I don’t think we gave them a ton of opportunities, but the few they had went in the net,” Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson told reporters afterward. “There’s a lesson to be learned from that.”
Thomas Greiss will start at goalie for the Islanders, who lost starter Robin Lehner to what the team is calling a “strain” after the second period Tuesday. Greiss preserved Lehner’s win by stopping 12 of 13 shots.
The Penguins’ starter is unknown after Matt Murray was pulled midway through the second period Tuesday in favor of Casey DeSmith. Murray took the loss after giving up four goals on just nine shots before DeSmith made 14 saves.
“Sometimes you make the change. It’s not so much about the goalie as it is about the rest of the group,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters afterward. “We just thought it was the right thing to do at that particular time. I don’t fault Matt for the goals.”
Greiss is 3-1-0 in six career games against the Penguins. Murray is 2-3-0 in five appearances against the Islanders. DeSmith faced New York for the first time Tuesday night.