Published January 31, 2017
NEW YORK -- Two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference will look to maintain their pre-All-Star break momentum on Tuesday night, when the New York Islanders host the Washington Capitals at Barclays Center.
The Islanders (21-17-9) extended their point streak to six games (5-0-1) last Thursday, when they beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1.
The Capitals improved to an NHL-best 33-10-6 after they won for the 13th time in 15 games (13-1-1) by cruising past the New Jersey Devils 5-2.
The Islanders' surge, which began in Jack Capuano's final game as head coach on Jan. 16, has lifted them out of last place in the Eastern Conference and on to the fringe of wild-card contention.
New York's pursuit of a third straight playoff berth is aided by the fact it has played just 47 games, tied for the fewest in the East.
"It's still a battle, no matter what, down the stretch, no matter what position you're in," said Islanders center Josh Bailey, who scored the final goal on Thursday. "You've got to find a way to string some (wins) together. Teams are getting points every night, so it just gets harder and harder. I think we're up to the challenge."
The Islanders have been up to the challenge against the best in the East for the last week. Before knocking off the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens, New York beat Columbus, which is tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third-most points in the conference.
"Obviously, have something to build off here," Bailey said. "And (they) want to continue that after the break."
So do the Capitals, whose current hot streak began after a 4-3 loss to the Islanders on Dec. 27. Washington's surge has put it into position to become only the third team this century to win the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back years and the first since the Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
"In the first half, or the first 20-something games, I thought we were just trying to re-establish our identity," Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt told the team's official website on Monday. "I think the last 20 (games), we've really found our way to get back to what we want to do and get back to the style we want to play."
Braden Holtby is expected to draw the start in net for the Capitals and will likely be opposed by the Islanders' Thomas Greiss, who got a pretty good belated birthday present on Monday, when he signed a three-year deal worth a reported $10 million. Greiss, who turned 31 on Sunday, was scheduled to reach free agency after the season.
On the injury front, Islanders defensemen Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey and right winger Cal Clutterbuck missed practice Monday. Hamonic is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Hickey (lower body) missed Thursday's game and Clutterbuck (lower body) left after the second period on Thursday.
For the Capitals, defenseman John Carlson, who has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury, skated at practice Monday.
Coach Barry Trotz said he didn't know if Carlson would play Tuesday but that he'd return no later than Wednesday, when Washington hosts the Boston Bruins.