Fresh off a win over the NHL’s top team, the Islanders will put their 19-3-0 Metropolitan Division record to the test this afternoon as they face the Washington Capitals in the nation’s capital.
Three different defensemen scored in the Isles’ 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, but today’s focus will be shutting down the Caps’ dynamic duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Ovechkin has four goals and an assist in three games against the Islanders this season, while Backstrom has one goal and four assists. The duo have a combined 14 points in Washington’s last three games – all wins over teams that currently occupy playoff positions.
Washington’s power play has been vital to the team’s success, currently sitting second in the NHL with a 24.4% conversion rate. The Caps finished 3-for-6 on the man advantage in Thursday’s 5-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
The Caps hot power play will meet an improviung Islanders penalty kill, which has fought off 13 straight penalties over the Isles’ last five games. The Islanders are 4-1-0 over that stretch.
The Islanders’ shorthanded unit came up big in the team’s most recent game against the Caps, going a perfect four-for-four in the Isles 4-3 OT win on Dec. 29. Johnny Boychuk – who has goals in two straight games – was the hero that night, scoring an overtime winner before dropping to his knees in celebration in front of a sold out Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders placed Mikhail Grabovski (upper body) on injured reserve Friday, recalling center Kael Mouillierat from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Mouillireat has spent time playing alongside Colin McDonald this season and is expected to slot in between McDonald and Matt Martin.
In goal, Jaroslav Halak has a chance to set a single-season franchise record. Halak (32-12-0) is in a four-way tie with Billy Smith (1981-82), Chris Osgood (2001-02) and Rick DiPietro (2006-07) for the single-season win record. A win today vaults Halak into the top spot and uncharted territory for an Islanders goaltender.
Braden Holtby will likely be Halak’s counterpart, though neither coach has committed to a goalie. Holtby is the Capitals workhorse, playing a league-high 50 games this season. From Nov. 18 through Jan. 16, the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native played in 27 straight contests. His six shutouts this season are second in the league behind only Marc-Andre Fluery of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Isles and Caps battle Saturday for the final time this regular season, but this could be an early-round playoff matchup come April or perhaps even May.
Puck drop is set for 12:30 p.m. from Verizon Center.