When the Isles last saw the Capitals, in their first meeting of the year, the Caps had rebounded from a ghastly start to pull nearly even with the Islanders in the standings at the outer edge of the playoff bubble.
Two weeks and seven games since the Islanders pulled away for a 5-2 win in that one, things are essentially the same: Tied in points, each a win short of that deceptive NHL quasi-.500, and looking at theoretical playoff aspirations that would require a really extended run that neither team has shown it can muster.
Capitals (15-16-1, 10th/E) @ Islanders (14-15-3, 11th/E)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | Audio: NHL - WRHU
[like GTE or something] Center
Some stick around, Semin walk away: Japers' Rink
Unlike the Isles, the Caps have at least managed to win three in a row this season, on two separate occasions. That includes the present, after they beat the Rangers in a shootout in one of those standings-terrorizing three-point games.
A Caps win tonight would make four in a row for the first time this season. An Isles win tonight would make two in a row for the seventh and still never-extended time this season.
If you haven't tuned in, Alex Ovechkin did what first-overall picks are supposed to do and earned the NHL's First Star this past week. Five goals and eight points in four games equals "hot." Meanwhile, over this three-game streak Braden Holtby has stopped 80 of 83 shots in three wins, including a two-game sweep in Winnipeg.
Waiting for Patrick
Thanks to realignment, outside of the playoffs the Capitals won't have to worry about multi-game sets to face a divisional rival in Manitoba anymore. They will have to worry about a higher threshold to make the playoffs or grab a divisional banner than has been custom in the Southeast.
And that's where, in one way, tonight's combatants are battling over the same spoils; but in another very Southleast way, they are not. At 31 points each, both teams have an outside eye on sneaking back into the playoffs. But while the Islanders have three divisional rivals ahead of them including the East pace-setters in Pittsburgh, Washington has two division rivals ahead who are just one (Carolina) and five (Winnipeg) points ahead of them.
(Even strength/close possession ranks, often but not always a better predictor of the future, tell a stark story. But there are multiple ways to look at whether the Caps have turned a corner.)
The Caps' remaining schedule includes a healthy dose of tough Northeast competition, as well as six against the less daunting fellows in their own neighborhood.
If we're honest, neither team is likely to pull this out. But if you were sketching out scenarios to reach the promised land, history says the Southeast banner is the safest route. After all, which would you bet is more likely: That both the Jets and Hurricanes falter and let the Caps in, or both the Rangers and Devils sink and let the Isles in?
Regardless, maybe I'm just too nostalgic for bygone days, but it's more fun to see tonight and the rubber match April 4 as old-time Patrick battles. D*le H*nter is still spineless.
- Evgeni Nabokov starts again, same lineup for the Isles.
- Holtby starts again for the Caps.
- At age 33, Mike Ribeiro is seeking a long-term deal.
- Coach Jack Capuano said "battle level" was real good the last two games. Does that equal the Cappy Zone?
- Familiar Achilles heel: Jack Hillen has only four minor penalties this year ... but that's in seven games.
- 15 of the last 29 meetings between the Isles and Caps have been one-goal games. Bring back the Patrick!
- More on NHL TV ratings, up just about everywhere. Bring back the lockout!
- Dougtone's photos from the Panthers game.
Caps lines, from Washington Post beatwriter Kate Carrera, including a couple old Isles on the blueline:
Random Old Patrick Fun: Ferraro Makes it 4-1 (1991 regular season)
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread. In recent games, those who have gone off the board have been rewarded (Aucoin, MacDonald).