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Capitals visit Islanders with both teams rising

by Matthew Mankiewich

CAPITALS (10-11-1) at ISLANDERS (10-11-3)


Last 10: Washington 7-3-0, New York 4-4-2

Season series: First of three, only one on Long Island. Though the teams split home and away last season, the memory of Washington's 11-0-1 run over the previous three lingers with many Islanders fans, particularly because the Capitals have won the past two.

Big story: Both teams are a game short of breaking even. The Islanders had to chase away some home-ice bugaboos to go 2-0-1 over their past three at Nassau Coliseum and now want to close the seven-game homestand on the plus side, currently at 2-2-2. The Capitals had a much deeper hole to dig from, winning eight of 11 since a 2-8-1 start nearly buried them for good. Neither team is in the Stanley Cup Playoff bracket at the moment, but with the Islanders three points out and the Capitals five, two here could be a big boost.

Team Scope:

Capitals: It's a game of elevens so far for the Capitals. They lost eight games in their first 11 and won eight in their second. They gave up 3.7 goals per game in their first 11; they've been scoring at that pace since. They scored 2.3 goals per game in their first 11, now they're allowing 2.0.

And a 7-1 drubbing of the injury-riddled Florida Panthers on Thursday night, when they scored four goals in the opening 8:10, left an unmistakable calling card for the rest of the NHL: The Caps are back.

"We started so bad that it was a big hole to climb out of, and it didn't look good," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We're just happy that we're winning games right now, and we don't want to be a .500 team."

Alex Ovechkin told the Washington Post, "Of course everybody's happy, but we're not jumping around. In that kind of game it was kind of easy."

Islanders: It doesn't take much to suck the wind out of one's sails, and in Thursday's game against the New York Rangers at the Coliseum, it happened quickly. After making Michael Grabner's first-period goal stick through most of the third period, Rick Nash came through in the clutch again for the Rangers with 5:23 left in regulation, tying the game and forcing overtime.

After a hooking call on Grabner that annoyed the Islanders bench -- maybe not so much for the call itself but for the fact the Islanders drew no power plays in a physical, hard-fought game -- Marian Gaborik scored to steal the point, 2-1, but hopefully not the Islanders' momentum after two previous wins.

"I feel bad for the guys," coach Jack Capuano told Newsday. "They deserved a couple power plays, but [the Rangers] got the break in OT and they took advantage."

Islanders assistant Brent Thompson on Friday was suspended for two games as a result of being assessed a game misconduct for comments directed at the officials Thursday.

"We've just got to try and put this one behind us, tough as it is," John Tavares said. We have to keep building off what we've done the past few games."

Who's hot: The Capitals' power-play percentage over their 11-game renaissance (32.4 percent) is slightly better than the Islanders' League-leading rate on the road (32.3). Braden Holtby has started all of those 11 games and has a 2.09 goals-against average in that stretch. Ovechkin has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six games after needing 16 to record his first 10. He has 10 goals and five assists in 13 games at the Coliseum.

Islanders forward Matt Martin continues to hit everything in sight. His 174 hits lead the NHL and his 374 last season set a League record. Forward Matt Moulson will play in his 300th NHL game (and 271st consecutive for the Islanders). Grabner's goal Thursday night was his 10th, making him the third Islanders player in double figures and the team the third with three double-digit scorers (Chicago Blackhawks; Pittsburgh Penguins). Evgeni Nabokov's 10 wins are second in the NHL behind Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. The Islanders are 9-1-2 when captain Mark Streit has a point. Had the Islanders been able to keep their 1-0 lead Thursday, it would have been their first win (0-10-0) in which they scored fewer than three goals.

Injury report: Capitals defenseman Mike Green (groin) has been out eight games but skated Friday. Goalie Michal Neuvirth was feeling under the weather Thursday and Philipp Grubauer was recalled to back up Holtby. Forward Marcus Johansson (upper body) is cleared to practice unrestricted but is not set to return. … Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (personal) was expected back Friday.

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