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Game Preview: Islanders at Blue Jackets

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders
The good news is that the New York Islanders are finally playing a team that’s been eliminated from playoff contention tonight in Columbus.


The bad news is that the Blue Jackets might be the hottest team in the NHL, having won their last seven.

“There’s not an easy game in the league, especially at this time of the year, even if you’re playing a team that’s not in the playoffs,” Matt Martin said. “They were a playoff team last year and had a lot of injuries to start the year and got off to a bad start. They are a lot better than their record indicates and they are playing really well right now.”

The Blue Jackets continued their streak Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils and improved to 9-1-0 in their last 10 games. They’ve scored three or more goals in 13 of their last 15 games and are 31-20-2 since Dec. 1.

“They are the hottest team in the league right now,” Kyle Okposo said. “They are playing some good hockey and we have to be aware and play our game. They are playing pretty loose. We’ve been in that position before. You just play free and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”

Ryan Johansen is setting the pace for the Blue Jackets, racking up seven assists in his last six games as part of an eight-game point streak (three goals, eight assists). In the process, Johansen has overtaken Nick Foligno (27 goals, 39 assists) as the team’s leading scorer. Scott Hartnell is also enjoying his best season in three years, recording 54 points (25 goals, 29 assists) through 71 games.

While Johansen, Foligno and Hartnell can all score, they also have another shared quality: size. All three players are over 6’0 and 210 lbs. Foligno leads the Blue Jackets with 182 hits, while Hartnell has 155. Brandon Dubinsky (6’2, 216 lbs.) has 134 hits in 41 games, so the Islanders can expect a physical game from Columbus.

“They are a pretty physical team, they have some big defensemen and forwards that can lay the body and they have a lot of talent up front to,” Martin said.

The Islanders are coming off a 5-4 win over the Detroit Red Wings and the belief in the locker room is that the gutcheck win – the Islanders rallied from an early 2-0 deficit – has put the team back on track after a 4-6-3 March.

“It was good to get the feeling back,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said Tuesday. “We talk about adversity when it sets in. For me it’s a springboard for success. We’ve come together stronger as a group after going through that. We’ve been resilient all year and played hard.”

The Islanders power play scored three times in Sunday’s win, marking the most goals they’ve produced all season. The team’s struggles in March coincided with a cold power play (5-for-35 before Sunday) and special teams have been crucial this season, as the Islanders are 25-11-1 when they score at least one power-play goal.

Conversely, the Islanders PK was rock solid in March, going 12 straight games without allowing a goal – a franchise record – before allowing one against the Red Wings. In total, the Islanders have killed off 30 of their last 31 penalties and 50 of their last 55 (90.9%). The shorthanded unit scored for the ninth time Sunday, improving the Isles record to 9-0-0 when scoring shorthanded.

“We did a lot of good things [Sunday],” Brock Nelson said.”The power play obviously did a great job. It was a big part of the win. All the other areas, PK, even strength, I thought we did a great job.”

The Islanders are looking for their third straight win over the Blue Jackets this season. The Islanders scored 11 goals over the first two meetings (5-2, 6-3) and are gunning for two straight regulation wins at Nationwide Arena for the first time in franchise history.

The Isles success against Columbus is a part of a sterling divisional record, as the Islanders are 20-5-1 against the Metropolitan Division. Four of the Islanders’ last five regular-season games are against divisional opponents (Columbus twice, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh).

Puck drop is at 7 p.m.

New York Islanders
45-27-5 (95 points – 2nd in Metropolitan Division, 4th in Eastern Conference)
21-13-4 road
Columbus Blue Jackets
37-35-4 (39 points - 5th in Metropolitan Division, T-12th in Eastern Conference)
15-20-2 home
7:00  p.m.
Nationwide Arena
Columbus, OH

Television:
MSG+
Play-by-play: Howie Rose
; Color: Butch Goring
Channel Finder

Radio: WRHU 88.7 FM, LI News Radio 103.9 FM
Play-by-play: Chris King; Color: Greg Picker
Islanders News:
- Practice Updates: Okposo's Progress (Apr. 1)
- Isles TV: Scoreboard Watching (Apr. 1)
- Met-rx Skate with the Greats (Mar. 31)
- Practice Updates: Mojo & Home Ice (Mar. 31)
- Johnston Signs ELC (Mar. 31)
- Isles CHL Playoff Report (Mar. 30)
- Islanders Prospect Report (Mar. 30)
Islanders player to watch
John Tavares - Forward

With five games remaining, John Tavares is in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. The Islanders captain has 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists) in 77 games and is three points back of Sidney Crosby for the league lead. Tavares is currently tied for second with Alexander Ovechkin. The Islanders captain posted three assists in a 5-4 win over the Detroit Red Wings, after going two games without a point.
Blue Jackets player to watch
Ryan Johansen - Forward

The Blue Jackets’ season is winding down, but Ryan Johansen is playing hard right to the end. The Blue Jackets center is riding an eight-game point streak (three goals, eight assists) and has seven assists in his last six games. Johansen set career highs in assists (43) and points (68) and has overtaken Nick Foligno as the team’s leading scorer. He’s big (6’3, 223 lbs.) and skilled and has established himself as an offensive force in the NHL.
New York Islanders previous game lines
Forwards
86 Nikolay Kulemin - 91 John Tavares - 18 Ryan Strome
12 Josh Bailey - 51 Frans Nielsen - 21 Kyle Okposo
27 Anders Lee - 29 Brock Nelson - 26 Tyler Kennedy
17 Matt Martin - 53 Casey Cizikas - 15 Cal Clutterbuck

Defensemen
37 Brian Strait - 3 Travis Hamonic
2 Nick Leddy - 55 Johnny Boychuk
14 Thomas Hickey - 11 Lubomir Visnovsky

Goaltenders
41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Michal Neuvirth

Columbus Blue Jackets previous game lines
Forwards
38 Boone Jenner - 19 Ryan Johansen - 13 Cam Atkinson
42 Artem Anisimov - 17 Brandon Dubinsky - 71 Nick Foligno
43 Scott Hartnell - 41 Alexander Wennberg - 56 Mark Dano
11 Matt Calvert - 55 Mark Letestu - 9 Jeremy Morin

Defensemen
7 Jack Johnson - 58 David Savard
4 Kevin Connauton - 29 Cody Goloubef
51 Fedor Tyutin - 47 Dalton Prout

Goaltenders
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Curtis McElhinney


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