Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between the teams this season. Washington swept the season series in 2008-09, with two of the victories coming in overtime.
Big Story: There was some talk heading into the season about how this could be the Caps’ year to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. So far, it’s not difficult to see why some prognosticators would make such a selection. Behind the remarkable play of Alex Ovechkin, Washington has earned points in seven of its first nine games and sits atop the Southeast Division.
Capitals: Ovechkin may not have scored, but he and his teammates found a way to hang on for a 5-4 victory against Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on Thursday night. Washington had what appeared to be a comfortable 5-2 lead heading into the third period, but Zach Bogosian scored an early shorthanded goal and Kovalchuk notched a power-play tally in the final minute and forced the Caps to sweat it out.
"I never felt comfortable once that whole game," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I ended up thinking, 'This is going to be 6-5,' but I ended up saying that in the middle of the second period. Somebody's going to win 6-5 because I just saw pucks bouncing and energy-wise for both teams wasn't what it should be. But we'll take the win."
Islanders: Just when you thought the Isles were headed in the right direction with Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout win against Carolina – their first of the season – they went out and laid an egg in Montreal on Thursday. The Islanders fell behind 3-0 en route to a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Josh Bailey had the lone goal for the Isles, courtesy of a giveaway by Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak.
"We were a pretty easy team to play against," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "Defensively we were on our heels because of all our turnovers and it wasn't just in one area, it was coming out of our zone, it was situations where we had full control of the puck and we're not making plays. It's probably the worst that I've ever seen it tonight and it's something that we've got to get better at."
Who's Hot: He was held off the score sheet on Thursday, but one could certainly make the case that nobody is playing better than Ovechkin right now. The Russian superstar leads the League in goals (9) and points (16). He also has already fired 65 shots on goal, which is 22 more than the next-closest competitor (Marian Gaborik).
Matt Moulson has been quite a find for Isles GM Garth Snow, as the former Los Angeles Kings forward leads the team with five goals. Moulson spent most of last season with the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League.
Injury Report: Caps left wing Tomas Fleischmann is inching closer to returning from a blood clot that has had him sidelined since last spring. Defenseman John Erskine is day-to-day with a bruised hand, while center Boyd Gordon continues to be sidelined with back issues. Goalie Jose Theodore could be in the nets on Saturday as he appears to have recovered from back spasms. Alexander Semin is expected to be back in the lineup for the Caps after being out with an undisclosed injury.
For the Islanders, No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro is still working his way back from knee and hip injuries that have kept him out of the lineup since January. Captain Doug Weight is day-to-day due to flu-like symptoms (he did not play on Thursday) and right wing Trent Hunter is expected to miss at least another two weeks with a torn pectoral muscle.
Stat Pack: Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov picked up the first assist of his career on a Jeff Schultz goal against Atlanta on Thursday night. … Three of the Caps’ tallies against the Thrashers came in an 88-second span during the second period.
Rob Schremp, who was claimed off waivers from the Edmonton Oilers just prior to the start of the season, was a healthy scratch on Wednesday and played less than seven minutes on Thursday. … Martin Biron, who was signed to a one-year deal as insurance to Dwayne Roloson and the injured DiPietro, has a 3.57 goals-against average in four appearances.
Puck Drop: The Islanders are expected to have a large crowd at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for this one, and it’s imperative they put on a good show for the fans who are anxiously awaiting to hear the fate of owner Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project. While they’re not expected to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Isles need to show improvement off last season. One win in eight games just isn’t going to cut it.