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At the Rink: Capitals at Islanders

by David Satriano

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Goalie Jaroslav Halak will return to the lineup when the New York Islanders host the Washington Capitals at Barclays Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN360, MSG+, CSN-DC).

Halak has missed the past five games because of an upper-body injury; he hasn't played since Dec. 21. He was activated from injured reserve and practiced Tuesday.

In 20 games this season Halak is 10-6-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

"He has looked pretty good," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Thursday. "We wouldn't put anyone in the lineup that wasn't ready. He skated in Pittsburgh, came back, skated with [goalie coach] Mike Dunham here for a couple of days. Felt really good [Wednesday], and went through the on-ice and the off-ice workout. So he is 100 percent."

Thomas Greiss started the five games Halak missed and will be the backup Thursday.

The last time the Islanders and Capitals played was Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round Stanley Cup Playoff series last spring, a 2-1 victory for the Capitals.

Washington leads the League with 61 points and is 12 points ahead of second-place New York in the Metropolitan Division.

"We have to raise our game; obviously we want to get two points," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "We know they've put a good gap but these division points are always key to try and make up ground."

Capuano emphasized the importance of the games in the second half of the season.

"Our guys know that the first half of the season all the games are important," he said. "But as we move forward there are a lot of divisional opponents and we have to be ready, not looking ahead playing the best team in the National Hockey League in the Capitals."

The Capitals, who did not hold a morning skate, agreed to terms on a one-year contract with forward Mike Richards on Wednesday. Richards has not played since the end of last season with the Los Angeles Kings. His contract was terminated in June for what the Kings termed a material breach of its requirements.

Richards, 30, had five goals and 16 points in 53 games last season. He has 179 goals and 482 points in 710 regular-season NHL games, and 26 goals and 87 points in 124 playoff games. He won the Stanley Cup twice with the Kings, in 2012 and 2014.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he was expecting a playoff-like game against the Islanders after the hard-fought series last spring.

"We played them a ton last year. ... They are a very good hockey team. There wasn't much separating us last season, and I don't think there is a lot separating us now," Trotz said. "They just keep coming at you and if last season was any indication, the 12 games we played in the regular season and playoffs last year, it's going to be a battle and there won't be much room out there."

Here are the projected lineups:

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Stanislav Galiev

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body)

Scratched: Ryan Stanton, Mike Richards

Suspended: Zach Sill

ISLANDERS

Anders Lee - John Tavares - Josh Bailey

Nikolay Kulemin - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo

Brock Nelson - Mikhail Grabovski - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy - Travis Hamonic

Calvin de Haan - Adam Pelech

Thomas Hickey - Marek Zidlicky

Jaroslav Halak

Thomas Greiss

Injured: Jean-Francois Berube (lower body), Johnny Boychuk (upper body)

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Brian Strait

Status report: Carlson will miss his sixth straight game but could return during the road trip, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday. ... Christopher Gibson was sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Tuesday to make room for Halak. Besides Halak, Capuano said New York will have the same lineup Thursday as it did in its last game, a 6-5 win Sunday against the Dallas Stars.

Who's hot: Holtby hasn't lost in regulation in his past 20 games (17-0-2). ... Kuznetsov has two goals and four assists in his past four games, and leads the Capitals with 37 points. … Okposo had three points Sunday and has five points in his past three games.

Follow David Satriano on Twitter: @davidsatriano

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