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At the Rink: Capitals at Islanders

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- After a brief stint on injured reserve, Jaroslav Halak is back.

The New York Islanders No. 1 goaltender, who missed the past two games because of a lower-body injury, was activated off IR on Sunday and will start Monday against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum.

Halak is 18-6-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 24 games this season. He has won his past four starts and has allowed two goals or fewer in each of them. In his past 19 starts, Halak has 17 wins.

New York (23-11-1) lost its past two games without Halak, including a 4-3 shootout defeat at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday when the Islanders blew a 3-0 lead in the third period.

"It was a good time for us to just give him a couple more days after the small break that we had," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He's healthy and ready to go."

Saturday was the third time this season the Islanders blew a 3-0 lead, and did so with a third goaltender. Kevin Poulin, who was returned to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Sunday, joined Halak and Chad Johnson in that group and further proved the goaltender may not be the one at fault.

"I watched Toronto-Florida [Sunday] night," Capuano said, referring to the Toronto Maple Leafs' inability to protect a 4-2 lead in the third period in a 6-4 loss at the Florida Panthers. "For whatever reason with the rule changes and the special teams and the goaltending and the skill level, you've gotta play the game and you've gotta continue to play the game because you don't know what's gonna happen during the course of a game.

"Buffalo the other night, same thing. They got a goal and then they get that shorthanded goal and teams get that momentum. But I look at the playoffs last year and I look at the two-goal leads and I don't know what the percentage was, but it was very high. That just goes to show you when you're playing for a Stanley Cup and it can happen. You can't put a finger on it and we try not to talk about it too much because we've been on the other side of it too. [Against] Tampa Bay [last Monday] we got a couple of quick ones. We just want to continue to do the right things with the puck, that's the main thing."

Washington (18-11-6), which has won seven of its past 10 games and has earned at least one point in nine of them, will be playing its final tuneup before the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA). The Capitals will be looking to build on their 3-0 win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

"I just think we've made a real strong commitment of playing our style of game, and we've been consistent at it," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When you do that, I think you have more success. We've won games in every way possible probably that you can. I think in the past, we were probably a little more one-trick pony where we win it on the power play. We've won games because of the defense, we've won games because of our 5-on-5 play, the penalty kill, all different ways, the goaltending. I just think we're hopefully becoming a little hardened, more consistent team."

Braden Holtby, who shut out the Penguins with 31 saves, will get his 13th straight start Monday. He is 16-8-5 with a 2.22 GAA and .921 save percentage.

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromJason Chimera

Marcus JohanssonEvgeny KuznetsovTroy Brouwer

Brooks LaichEric FehrJoel Ward

Jay BeagleMichael LattaTom Wilson

Brooks OrpikJohn Carlson

Karl AlznerMatt Niskanen

Jack HillenMike Green

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Andre Burakovsky, Nate Schmidt

Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (upper body), Aaron Volpatti (neck)


Josh BaileyJohn TavaresKyle Okposo

Mikhail GrabovskiFrans NielsenNikolay Kulemin

Anders LeeBrock NelsonRyan Strome

Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Calvin de HaanTravis Hamonic

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk

Thomas HickeyLubomir Visnovsky

Jaroslav Halak

Chad Johnson

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Brian Strait, Matt Donovan

Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body)

Status update: Grabner participated in an optional morning skate, but is not quite ready to return from his lower-body injury. Grabner had surgery to repair a hernia prior to the season and has played five games this season. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Grabner is a vital component to the Islanders penalty kill. "I think he's coming along quite well," Capuano said. "We're hoping that he'll be ready when we head out to Winnipeg and head on this trip tomorrow. [It's a] good sign that he's been working extremely hard on and off the ice and that he'll be ready to go here shortly." … Chimera is expected to start with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but Trotz anticipates the top line "will have a few people on it."

Who's hot: Tavares scored two goals Saturday; he has three goals and one assist in the past three games. He and Okposo (one goal, three assists) each has a three-game point streak. … Fehr scored twice against the Penguins on Saturday, and Johansson and Kuznetsov extended their point streaks to three games (one goal, two assists). Carlson has five assists in his past four games.


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