Dec. 31 vs. New York Islanders at PNC Arena
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
New York Islanders 24-10-3
Washington Capitals 27-8-5
The Caps conclude the decade of the 2010s, the year of 2019, and the first half of the 2019-20 season on Tuesday afternoon at Capital One Arena when they host the New York Islanders. The game is the first meeting between the Metropolitan Division foes since the first weekend of the season when Washington edged the Isles 2-1 in New York.
Tuesday's game is the third of four straight contests against Metro foes for the Caps, who split a weekend set of back-to-backs against Columbus and at Carolina, respectively. The Caps trimmed the Jackets 2-1 in overtime on a T.J. Oshie power-play goal in the extra session, and they fell to the Hurricanes in Carolina a night later, 6-4.
Washington went into the NHL's three-day holiday break at peak health, but came out of the break with a number of players ailing from illness. Most significantly, they played without defenseman Michal Kempny for both of those weekend games, interrupting a streak of 30 straight games in which the Capitals played with the same six defensemen.
Radko Gudas was also ill and at less than 100 percent, but he gutted his way through 11 minutes on Friday night, and then logged 19:27 on Saturday, when the Caps were down to five blueliners for the final 40 minutes after Christian Djoos - recalled from AHL Hershey after the break - departed Saturday's game with an upper body injury after the first period.
Washington also played Saturday's game without winger Tom Wilson (lower body), who missed his first game in more than a year in the loss to Carolina.
Video: Reirden | December 30
After taking Sunday off, the Caps reconvened for practice on Monday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. While both Kempny and Wilson participated in Monday's practice, Oshie (illness) and Djoos (upper body) did not, and Caps coach Todd Reirden wasn't quite ready to pronounce either Kempny or Wilson as available and ready to return for Tuesday's tilt with the Islanders.
"It's good that they both were out there through the whole practice," says Reirden, "It would be premature for me to talk about how they're going to do with rehab the rest of today and how they're going to feel tomorrow when they wake up could be another thing. So we're hoping obviously T.J. is back [Tuesday] and all that, but like I said, the last few days we've been wondering up until practice time or game time who we're going to have, so we're prepared for a number of different situations."
Djoos won't play on Wednesday, and the Caps are hopeful of Oshie rallying to the point of playing. But they don't know whether another player or players could come down with the bug between now and puck drop on Tuesday afternoon. With salary cap space basically non-existent, the Caps have to be prepared for a number of possibilities on Tuesday.
"There's a lot of moving parts right now," says Reirden. "That is without question. So we have more than one contingency plan at this point and just in terms of what we can do with cap space and how that would work makes it ever more complicated. Just sorting through that stuff [Sunday] on a day away from the rink for our players, in terms of the organization we were here seeing guys who were sick and injured, taking note of all that, and spending time coming up with how we can field the best possible wind up with the cap constraints we have."
Throughout the first quarter of the season and beyond, the Islanders were matching the Caps virtually win for win. From Oct. 10-Nov. 5, the Isles reeled off 10 straight wins, limiting the opposition to two or fewer goals in nine of the 10 games. After a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins on Nov. 7, the Islanders spun off five more victories in succession for a 16-game point streak (15-0-1).
More recently however, the Islanders have been a bit wobbly. They'll be finishing up a three-game road trip on Tuesday, and it will be the rubber match of the trip for them; the Isles dropped a 5-2 decision to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday before getting right with a 3-1 win over the Wild in Minnesota on Sunday.
Overall, the Isles have lost four of their last six games (2-3-1). In doing so, they've allowed an atypical - for them - total of 24 goals. As Reirden notes, the Isles tend to spend more time in their own zone than most teams, but their bend-but-don't-break defense has apparently been doing more breaking than bending of late.
"They were much better at it in [Sunday] night's game watching them play against Minnesota than they were some prior games," says Reirden of the Isles. "I think that was something that - knowing their staff really well - they would be emphasizing. They do give up some of the most in-zone time of anybody in the league; I think it is the most or second most.
"So you can get there, but it's a matter of getting to the inside and making sure that you're getting in situations where you can create an advantage and attack, versus on structure. Those are some things we focus on going into this game, and obviously it's a system we're familiar with, and we hope to be able to match their work ethic [Tuesday]."