ISLANDERS (25-11-1) at FLAMES (21-15-3)
TV: SN1, MSG+ 2
CALGARY -- New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey can relate to where the Calgary Flames have been. He can see where Calgary is heading too.
Having been through one of his own, Hickey can see the progress in the Flames rebuild.
"Being from here, you understand they've got some really good core pieces," said Hickey, a Calgary native. "What their coach has done getting everyone to buy in, it's noticeable. I think everyone around the League would say they're a team that plays hard.
"They play the right way and it's similar to us. They maybe didn't have to suffer as long, but certainly one of the surprising teams and more improved teams this year."
The Islanders, who enter action against the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday riding a two-game winning streak, have greatly improved too.
Last season, New York finished last in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points.
After closing out 2014 with a 5-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets, the Islanders' 25 wins lead the Eastern Conference and tie them with the Chicago Blackhawks for most in the NHL. It also places New York in a tie for the Metropolitan Division lead with the Pittsburgh Penguins and one off the pace set by the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the East.
The progress hasn't gone unnoticed by Calgary coach Bob Hartley.
"There's lots of great examples over the past years, the Penguins, Chicago, you look at Nashville right now, the Islanders," said Hartley, whose team has won four straight. "Sometimes it's all about cycles and you have to be patient with those kids. They'll make mistakes. That's why we're there. It's all about teaching. It's all about creating an environment where they're going to feel comfortable.
"You mix this with great leadership and that's what you get. Those guys, you look where they're at in the standings, it's no fluke."
John Tavares, who leads the Islanders with 15 goals, isn't sure there are others following the Islanders blueprint though.
"I think at times people didn't always think we were doing the right things for a number of years, but certainly you see how sometimes things come together in a certain way," said Tavares, who shares the team lead in points with Kyle Okposo at 32. "Sometimes they come a little bit quicker. Sometimes they come a little longer.
"Every situation is different. I think we've done a tremendous job drafting, especially with a lot of our high picks, as well as the additions we've made. Guys are still young, right in the prime of their career and very valuable players. Certainly, I know for me it's been up and down, but we believe we're right on the cusp of doing some good things.
"If teams look at it that way, that's great."
Here are the projected lineups:
Josh Bailey - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski - Frans Nielsen - Nikolay Kulemin
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Eric Boulton, Matt Donovan, Brian Strait
Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body)
Johnny Gaudreau - Josh Jooris - Jiri Hudler
Curtis Glencross - Sean Monahan - Joe Colborne
Paul Byron - Markus Granlund - Lance Bouma
Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - David Jones
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman
Raphael Diaz - Deryk Engelland
Scratched: Mason Raymond, Brian McGrattan, Corey Potter
Injured: Sam Bennett (shoulder surgery), Mikael Backlund (abdomen), Ladislav Smid (upper body).
Status report: The Islanders are expected to ice the same roster that was victorious over the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 31, including starting Halak for a third straight game. … Hiller will make his seventh straight start for the Flames. Raymond will sit for a second consecutive game as a healthy scratch.
Who's hot: Counting a career-high four-point night against the Jets, Strome has six points in his past two games. … Hudler, who leads the Flames with 37 points, has a five-game assist streak.