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Islanders visit Flyers begin crucial home-and-home

by Adam Kimelman

ISLANDERS (19-23-7) at FLYERS (24-19-5)


Last 10: New York 8-2-0; Philadelphia 6-3-1

Season series: This game starts a season series-closing home-and-home set between the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers that concludes Monday at Nassau Coliseum. The Flyers won the first two games between the teams. On Oct. 26 Vincent Lecavalier had a hat trick in a 5-2 victory on Long Island; Matt Read scored twice in a 5-2 win in Philadelphia on Nov. 23.

Big story: The Pittsburgh Penguins have run away with the Metropolitan Division lead, leaving the other seven teams to fight for the remaining two automatic bids to the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the division. The Flyers lead that seven-team group, but the Islanders, last in the division, are just eight points back. That makes every divisional game that much more important.

A Flyers sweep of the home-and-home set wouldn't clinch anything, but it would put a major crimp into the Islanders' hopes of making the playoffs for a second straight season. A sweep would put them back in the thick of the race.

The Islanders have been one of the hottest teams in the League in the past 10 games, but history leans heavily toward the Flyers. Philadelphia is 14-2-2 in the past 18 games between the teams since the start of the 2010-11 season, and the Flyers are 16-1-2 against the Islanders in Philadelphia since the start of the 2007-08 season.

Team Scope:

Islanders: The Islanders may be stuck in last place in the Metropolitan Division, but they can't blame their goaltending.

Kevin Poulin is 5-1-0 in his previous six starts, including a 29-save effort Thursday in a 2-1 shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He capped the win by stopping all three Lightning shooters in the tiebreaker.

"Kevin was solid," coach Jack Capuano said after the game. "He really controlled his rebounds. He was really poised back there and he made some timely saves. With [Evgeni Nabokov hurt], this is an opportunity for Kevin and hopefully he'll keep playing the way he’s been playing for us."

Poulin is 10-13-0 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 23 games, but during his six-game hot streak he has a 2.23 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Flyers: One of the reasons the Flyers have climbed to second in the division is the play of their second line, which features Brayden Schenn centering Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. In their past 10 games the trio has combined for 14 goals and 17 assists.

Hartnell and Simmonds play almost the same style, but rather than get in each other's way, each has flourished.

"I think it helps," Simmonds recently said. "We know what we're going to do each and every time we're out there, so it makes it easier to read. Kind of know where the other guy is going to be if you're not in that position, so it's pretty easy."

Schenn and Simmonds have played together frequently since the Flyers acquired them in June 2011 from the Los Angeles Kings in the Mike Richards trade. Hartnell has been a recent addition, but it hasn't taken long for them to find their way on the ice.

"A lot of it is chemistry between the three of them," coach Craig Berube said after an optional practice Friday. "I think it took some time but they have got it now. Little things like puck support and battling in the corners for pucks, and people at the net all the time. All their goals are [because of] guys around the net."

Who's hot: Islanders captain John Tavares has eight goals and 11 assists in his past 11 games. … Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros has one goal and eight assists in his past nine games; he had one goal and two assists in his first 19 games.

Injury report: Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) are out. Defenseman Travis Hamonic (upper body) is doubtful. … Flyers forwards Zac Rinaldo (ankle) is out.

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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