Underlying those storylines, the Caps are once again looking to rebound from an ugly loss, a 7-2 home ice setback to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night. Washington needs a win over the Islanders to earn a split on the homestand; they've lost two of the previous three games, both to Metropolitan Division opponents.
Eight times this season, the Caps have lost a game by three or more goals, accounting for more than half of their total of 14 regulation losses. Washington has displayed resilience in responding to those losses; the Caps are 6-0-1 in the games following those losses by three or more goals, and they'll be seeking another strong follow-up tonight.
"It's the mentality of hating to lose, and certainly to do it twice in a row is not something we want to have the mentality of accepting," says Caps center Lars Eller. "We want to show that that's not the real Capitals team that we saw last game. There are going to be times during the year where nothing is working, you're making mistakes, you're not sharp and things aren't working.
"Things can get away from you, and we do everything we can to avoid that. It happened last game, and I'm confident that we're going to see a different Capitals team out there tonight with a different attitude and mentality, readiness and execution. I know we're a lot better than that."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lars Eller
Washington has dipped to 9-9-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents this season, and five of their eight three-goal losses have come at the hands of four different Metro opponents, with Columbus turning the trick twice.
"Tonight's a night for us to respond in a number of different areas," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "The league is too good to play like we did on Saturday and expect any other result. There are not a lot of areas that I can say we were successful in, and we discussed being better. Tonight is all about the response."
Rotating Heads - Last week at this time, the Caps were the only team in the NHL with as many as five different defensemen who had played in every game to that point of the season. After tonight, they'll be down to two, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.
Washington wanted to get a look at Martin Fehervary, their second-round choice (46th overall) from the 2018 NHL Draft. The Caps want to see how much Fehervary has developed since he had a three-game trial here at the outset of the season, so they scratched Jonas Siegenthaler for last Tuesday's game against Los Angeles, they scratched Nick Jensen for Saturday's game against Philly, and they will scratch Radko Gudas tonight against the Islanders.
"Like I had said before, we are just getting into a rotation here [with] those three guys up to now, with being able to see Martin play another game," says Reirden. "We'll see him again tonight with Orlov and see how that goes. Again, I liked his game and we will continue to evaluate him and see where we're at organizationally. Tonight, it just so happens that it's Radko that's out."
Over their last 18 games, the Caps have permitted a bloated average of 3.50 goals per game, a figure that is not sustainable for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Over that stretch of time, only one team in the league has allowed more goals per game, and that's Toronto (3.63).
Despite bleeding goals against, the Leafs have managed a 10-5-4 mark over that span because they've scored a league-high 3.95 goals per game during that stretch. The Caps' offense has been prolific too, scoring 3.61 goals per game to rank fifth over that period.
The NHL's trade deadline is two weeks from today, and the Caps want to have a good handle on what they have in Fehervary, so they know if they can count on him down the stretch and into the playoffs. Sitting regulars is never easy, but Washington also needs to be much better in its own end of the ice if it hopes to play beyond the end of April.
There can also be value in sitting out a game and watching from above.
Video: Reirden Pregame | February 10
"Yeah, there is value in it," says Reirden. "They get a chance to reset, and it was a thing that we had predetermined, so that's why I said it was a rotation. We had a plan in mind of how we wanted to handle these three games with these players, and then we'll go from there tonight, after the game.
"We knew that these three guys were going to be the ones that came out, and now it gives a chance for them to spend more time working after the game and before the game, doing extra time video-wise and extra skill work. It kind of breaks the rhythm a little bit of just playing game after game and refocus on details that I think you can always do. Every player can reassess during the season.
"This is a luxury, and we've been fortunate to not have the injuries back there, but you have to be prepared for them. That's why it's important that organizationally we take inventory."
Son Of A Gun - Isles forward Kieffer Bellows is slated to sit out Monday's game as a healthy scratch, but the rookie winger has made a nice splash in his first three NHL games, scoring a couple of goals and totaling three points. New York's first-round (19th overall) choice in the 2016 NHL Draft, Bellows is the son of ex-Caps winger Brian Bellows.
The elder Bellows was also a first-round choice; he was the second player taken overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, going to the Minnesota North Stars where he spent the first 10 seasons of an NHL career that spanned 17 seasons and 1,188 games. He had four seasons with 40 or more goals and netted 55 in his best season, 1989-90.
After late-career stints with Montreal, Tampa Bay and Anaheim, Brian Bellows signed with the Berlin Capitals in the German League (DEL) for the 1997-98 season. When Bellows' season ended in March of 1998, George McPhee, the Caps' GM at the time, signed him to a contract for the remainder of the season, using a since-closed loophole to ensure that when the Caps placed him on waivers - a requirement for players coming from Europe to the NHL at that stage of the season in those days - that Washington would be the only team Bellows would be eligible to play for in the postseason.
The ruse worked, and the Caps suddenly had a 33-year-old top six winger who had won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993. That transaction proved to be prescient; Bellows managed six goals and nine points in 11 regular season games with Washington late that season, but his true value came to the fore in the postseason.
Bellows totaled six goals and 13 points in 21 playoff contests as the Caps drove to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history in the spring of 1998. Bellows supplied the game- and series-winning goal in overtime in Game 6 of the first round, helping the Caps get past the Boston Bruins.
During the Cup Final against the Detroit that year, the late Abe Pollin - the Caps' majority owner at the time - allowed Bellows the use of his private plane to fly from Detroit to Minnesota for the birth of his second child. Kieffer Bellows was born on June 10, 1998 in Edina, Minn., and Bellows didn't miss a game; he was back in the Motor City in time to suit up for Game 2 of the Cup Final.
Brian Bellows finished his NHL career with the Caps in 1998-99, recording his 1,000th career point that season. He finished his career with 485 goals and 1,022 points.
Last week, the Islanders recalled Kieffer Bellows from AHL Bridgeport, and he debuted against Dallas on Feb. 4, picking up an assist in his first game. The 21-year-old Bellows scored a pair of goals in his next game against Los Angeles two nights later. He had 16 goals and 24 points in 45 games with Bridgeport before being recalled.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | February 10
In The Nets - Ilya Samsonov made his first career start and NHL debut against the Islanders in New York on Oct. 4, earning a 2-1 victory. He also picked up the win in relief in the most recent meeting between these teams on Jan. 18 on Long Island. Samsonov gets his second start against the Islanders on Monday night, and he will be looking to rebound from a rare loss in his most recent start, a 4-3 setback at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins here on Feb. 2.
For the Islanders, we can't be certain which goaltender will man the crease tonight until the team takes the ice for warmup; they believe in playing coy and being surreptitious with the identity of their starting goaltender.
For what it's worth, the Islanders have rotated their two netminders in the four games since returning from their midseason break, and if that trend continues, you should expect to see Thomas Greiss in goal tonight. New York has gone with Semyon Varlamov in each of the previous three meetings between the two teams this season, with Washington taking two of the three.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Greiss is 3-3-1 with a shutout, a 2.15 GAA and a .927 save pct. in seven appearances.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Islanders to look on Monday night in the District when they wrap up their season's series for 2019-20 and Washington's four-game homestand:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
27-Lee, 13-Barzal, 7-Eberle
18-Beauvillier, 29-Nelson, 12-Bailey
32-Johnston, 10-Brassard, 28-Dal Colle
17-Martin, 53-Cizikas, 47-Komarov