Jan. 18 vs. New York Islanders at NYCB Live
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 32-11-5
New York Islanders 28-14-4
The Caps will spend Saturday afternoon on Long Island where they will face the New York Islanders for the second time in 19 days. The two Metropolitan Division rivals tangled in Washington in a New Year's Eve matinee match, with the Isles coming out on top, 4-3.
Washington has won two straight and will be playing its final game before the bye week/All-Star break. The Caps' next game after Saturday is a Jan. 27 date with the Canadiens in Montreal, so the goal is obviously to keep their collective feet on the gas and to go into their break on a winning note.
The Caps come to the Island off the high of a satisfying 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night in the District. The Caps downed the Devils five days after New Jersey put a 5-1 beating on them in the opener of the homestand, so avenging that loss was their primary motivation in the contest.
Alex Ovechkin recorded the 25th hat trick of his NHL career, reaching the 30-goal plateau for the 15th straight season in the process. His first goal came on a 5-on-3 power play, his second came three seconds after a Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive-zone draw and neatly kicked the puck to Ovechkin's stick blade, and the third came off a marvelous feed from Tom Wilson - a whirling, blind backhand pass that went through a defender's skates and landed right on the captain's tape.
Now, they'll head north for an afternoon affair against the Islanders, another team they'd like to take down after losing their previous meeting.
"I think we've made a much better push in our last two games in the right direction," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Obviously we had a downturn - especially highlighted by our game against the Devils at home here - so I've liked our response in both games against Carolina and playing against New Jersey again [Thursday] night. There are some things we're doing much better, and I liked our execution better, and our detail in a lot of areas. And I think our starts to those games gave us a much better chance.
"So that'll be our focus [Saturday]. Obviously, in a one o'clock game the starts are so important, and especially against a team like the Islanders. So we'll focus in for another day here, and then the guys will have a good chance to get away from the game for a bit."
Video: Reirden | January 17
Saturday's game marks the third meeting of the season between these two familiar foes, and each of the first two were one-goal games decided in regulation, and the two clubs split them. Each team won on the road, the Caps earning a 2-1 win here on the Island back on Oct. 4 when Ilya Samsonov claimed his first NHL win in his debut in the league with a 25-save performance.
The Isles won in Washington in the Caps' final game of the first half of the season, the aforementioned 4-3 victory on Dec. 31. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a pair of goals for the Caps in that one, and Washington outshot the Isles 39-22, but New York netminder Semyon Varlamov outdueled Braden Holtby, beating his old team in Washington for the first time since 2013.
Early in the season, the Islanders were on a tear. They matched Washington win-for-win over much of the first two months of the campaign, but they've slowed their roll significantly over the last several weeks. The Isles roared out to 16-3-1 start, but then went out to California where they dropped three straight (0-2-1). That started a stretch in which New York has forged a more ordinary 12-11-3 mark in 26 games since.
Most recently, the Isles suffered a 3-2 loss to the crosstown rival Rangers on Thursday night, falling on Chris Kreider's power-play goal in the final half-minute of regulation. It was the Islanders' third loss in their last four games (1-2-1), with both of the regulation setbacks in that span coming against the Rangers.
Although the Islanders still hold third place in the Metro with 60 points, they've fallen nine points behind Washington and are now closer to the cluster of three teams tied for fourth in the division - Carolina, Columbus and Philadelphia. Only the first two of those clubs currently occupy a playoff spot in the standings.
The Isles have allowed 2.63 goals per game this season, tied for fifth best in the league. They've scored an average of 2.85 goals per contest, which ranks 21st in the circuit.
Washington and the Isles will meet for the final time this season shortly after the break ends, on Feb. 10 in the District.