The New York Islanders were in disbelief over the math Saturday night: Fifty-three hits. Thirty-five shots. But no points against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders will hope their effort yields a more positive result Monday night, when they return home to host the Buffalo Sabres in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Islanders ended a four-game road trip by squandering a third-period lead and falling to the Penguins, 3-2. The Sabres snapped a four-game losing streak Saturday by beating the host New Jersey Devils, 3-2.
The loss for the Islanders capped a winless two-game series against the Penguins. But Saturday’s defeat was equal parts frustrating and encouraging for New York, which had just 34 hits and was outshot 37-32 on Thursday night while never leading in a 4-1 loss.
On Saturday the Islanders scored twice in a span of a little more than five minutes bridging the second and third periods to take a 2-1 lead before the Penguins’ Mike Matheson tied the score at the 7:35 mark. Kris Letang scored the game-winning goal with 6:26 remaining.
The loss cost the Islanders an opportunity to move into sole possession of second place in the East Division and instead created a four-way tie for second between New York, the Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals heading into Sunday’s games.
“Life’s not fair sometimes,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Saturday night. “I think if you just stick to the process, you’ll get those results. I think the guys know in the room that we probably deserved a point tonight at least, maybe two. If we continue to play that way, then we’ll have success.”
The win over the Devils provided some much-needed positive reinforcement for the Sabres, who were 4-4-2 when their season was paused after numerous Devils went into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol following the teams’ two-game series from Jan. 30-31.
The Sabres had six games postponed during their more than two-week pause, a span in which at least nine players were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list and coach Ralph Krueger displayed symptoms after testing positive for the virus.
The Sabres resumed play Feb. 15 and lost their first three games — twice against the Islanders and once to the Capitals — during which they were outscored 9-2 and never held a lead. But Buffalo raced out to a 3-0 lead Saturday and held off a third-period rally by the Devils, who scored both their goals while producing 13 of their 27 shots in the final 20 minutes.
“It obviously hasn’t been going our way since we were able to come back,” said Sabres center Sam Reinhart, who scored a pair of second-period goals Saturday. “But I think getting on the road has been important for our guys. I would say that we can’t go anywhere, so to spend some time traveling and in hotels has helped us.”
Monday’s contest is the third of a four-game road trip for the Sabres, who will likely be without defenseman Jake McCabe after he was helped off the ice during the third period Saturday with what appeared to be a knee injury.