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Islanders look to gain ground in playoff race

More offense vs. Ottawa can help New York increase wild card lead, close gap with Pittsburgh in division

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

SENATORS (34-32-8) at ISLANDERS (38-24-9)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; MSG+, TVA Sports, SN, NHL.TV

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders have a chance to build on their lead in the race for the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference as well gain ground in the Metropolitan Division when they play the Ottawa Senators at Barclays Center on Wednesday.

The Islanders, who are in the first wild card spot, are two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, and three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are third in the division. None of those teams play Wednesday.

Offense has been hard to come by recently for the Islanders. They know they need to find some quickly.

New York has lost four straight games (0-3-1) and is 1-4-2 in its past seven, with 11 goals scored during that stretch.

"You have to stay positive," said Islanders captain John Tavares, who has gone five straight games without a goal. "There's obviously still some hockey left to be played here and things have obviously been a little tough. But as a group we know we're in a good spot and we believe in each other and we know there's urgency at this time of year and with the way the standings are, so we've just got to focus one game at a time and making sure we're ready to play individually and as a team and everyone does their job to the best of their ability."

It's been a particularly frustrating season for Islanders forward Anders Lee, who scored 25 goals as a rookie in 2014-15 and was rewarded during the offseason with a four-year contract. The 25-year-old has 12 goals in 71 games this season but said he's confident if he continues to get to the net that things will turn around.

"Most of the times we get out of these ruts with a really dirty goal, something that goes off a skate or something that wasn't supposed to happen," Lee said. "We've got to get pucks to the net and get back to the basics, and the pretty ones will follow and the offense will start clicking again and we'll be fine. I think it's just a rough patch right now and we're all a little bit frustrated."

But with teams around them in the standings finding ways to win, the Islanders know they need to get back on track quickly. Coach Jack Capuano said he's pleased with the attitude of his players and believes they're still in a good spot.

"At the drop of the puck at the start of the year, if you would have said, 'OK, you've got 11 games left, would you want to be sitting where you're sitting?' I'd like to think we'd sign up for it right now," Capuano said. "I mean, I know I would, with the amount of good teams there are in the East.

"The demeanor's good. Confidence [is] I don't want to say fragile, because they're not a fragile team. But they've got to gain that confidence back. The only way to do it is to work hard and continue to do their thing. But use your teammates, simplify your game, not try to do too much … I think there are certain guys that are in that category right now, and it's not going to work. Just use the guys that we have on the ice, make it a 5-on-5 game."

The Senators will be playing their second game in as many nights after a 4-2 loss against the Washington Capitals at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.

Ottawa will be without defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zack Smith - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan

Matt Puempel - Scott Gomez - Alex Chiasson

Nick Paul - Curtis Lazar - Ryan Dzingel

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Fredrik Claesson - Cody Ceci

Michael Kostka - Chris Wideman

Andrew Hammond

Craig Anderson

Injured: Dion Phaneuf (lower body), Mark Borowiecki (knee), Kyle Turris (ankle), Chris Phillips (back), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Patrick Wiercioch (undisclosed), Chris Neill (illness)

Scratched: None


Josh Bailey - John Tavares - Ryan Strome

Nikolay Kulemin - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Shane Prince

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Thomas Hickey - Ryan Pulock

Jean-Francois Berube

Thomas Greiss

Injured: Jaroslav Halak (lower body), Mikhail Grabovski (upper body), Marek Zidlicky (upper body), Adam Pelech (upper body)

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Steve Bernier, Brian Strait

Status report: Ottawa did not have a morning skate but coach Dave Cameron confirmed Hammond will start after Anderson made 18 saves Tuesday. … Neil will miss his second straight game because of the flu. … Claesson was recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis Wednesday to replace Phaneuf. … Pulock will play after being a healthy scratch the past two games. He scored his first NHL goal March 17 in a 4-2 loss at the Nashville Predators. … Berube will make his fourth start of the season. His most recent start came March 15 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when he made 33 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss.

Who's hot: In the past five games Zibanejad has four goals and two assists and Hoffman has one goal and six assists. … Okposo has three goals in his past five games.

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