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New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals Preview: We keep doing this, it's gonna be a rivalry

Caps and Isles fighting for the playoffs: Why not renew the rivalry a little early?

Jazz hands.
Jazz hands.
Bruce Bennett

Something posted at CBS DC the other day gave me a chuckle: Meetings between these two teams haven't mattered this much since 1993. I'm not sure if that's true, but then again I spent a lot of money on therapy and chemicals to erase the 1995-2001 era from my memory. (Ziggy Palffy survived that memory wipe. Probably because Palffy is that good.)

Regardless, fortunately this time the Capitals don't have D*le H*nter to injure someone to prove who is the sorest most cowardly loser of all. Unfortunately, they also don't have him behind the bench.

*advanced apologies to visiting Caps fans for bringing up H*nter seemingly every time these teams meet.

Was-hingtonslim_medium Nyi-landthin_medium
Capitals (17-17-2, 10th/E) vs. Islanders (18-16-3, 11th/E)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | Audio:
[one of those Bells] Center
Ovi bunches of Oates:
Japers' Rink

We keep bringing this up ever since a Patrick Division Resurrection re-alignment proposal surfaced last year, but the Capitals are going to matter to us again, probably as annual foes for lower playoff seeds in Division X. And right now, they matter to us because they are surging (6-3-1 in last 10, better than Isles' 6-4-0), and are one slot behind the Isles in the standings.

The Capitals might not be chasing the same playoff spot as the Isles; Washington's route likely goes via catching Winnipeg for their umpteenth and final Southeast Division title.

Capitals Add an Erat

This is a fun, er, interesting time to be catching the Caps since the Caps surprised many at the trade deadline by not only hanging on to pending UFA Mike Ribeiro, but also giving up an important prospect for Martin Erat (and Michael Latta).

Despite holding no-trade rights, Erat requested a trade from the Predators. (Which I guess is, kind of, also what you get when you have no-trade rights: It's not so much that you won't get traded -- that happens all the time - it's that you can largely control your next destination.).

Anyway, Erat adds a really useful piece, probably to the Caps' top six. He's a good possession forward and definitely annoying to play against, not the least of which because you feel like you shouldn't be beaten by someone with such a rodent-sounding surname.

So Erat is good and should step in right away, and Alexander Ovechkin looks like he is returning to dangerous form under coach Adam Oates. Oates didn't have a real training camp with this team and they got off to an awful start, but my personal belief has always been that he's going to be a good coach for this team. Since they're trending up right now, I'll just go ahead and cash in a confirmation bias card to declare that's totally happening right now.

However, even if the Capitals are better today than they were yesterday, they are beatable. The Islanders have done it twice this season, in competitive if not convincing fashion. They rode a little luck and a little Nabokov to eke out a 3-2 win last time in D.C. in late March. They might need a little more than that this time.

Lineup Notes

The Islanders' revolving #6 defenseman spot keeps spinning: Tonight, Radek Martinek is back in the lineup for Matt Carkner, probably in response to Washington's team speed and to Carkner's rather ... circumscribed skillset.

At forward, it seems clear Anders Lee will sit this one out in his fourth day as a pro. Arthur Staple of Newsday says it wasn't clear whether Marty Reasoner or Jesse Joensuu fills in his stead.

Evgeni Nabokov starts again. They'll be riding him down the stretch while allowing Kevin Poulin to complete the crossword puzzle he's been working on.

Of Note

Bridgeport played a morning -- yes, a morning -- game today and did not at all look like they slept in. In the win over Worcester, Matt Donovan collected four points and the top prospects (Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter) combined for what sounded like several pretty goals. Swoon. That leaves them four points out of eighth.

This came up in comments this morning but deserves a larger airing for those with an inclination to understand some hockey metrics: It relates to advanced stats on the team level rather than individual player evaluation, and is a good illustration of why Fenwick/close or "possession numbers" are a pretty good long-term indicator of a team's chances. By this metric, the Isles are currently very middle-of-the-pack at 49.70, which pretty well befits a bubble team.

The odds aren't quite in their favor, but they have a chance. They'll need some luck and to continue the pace they've been on recently, which is tough but doable. It can definitely happen. A win tonight, obviously, would sure help.

Other games that matter tonight: New Jersey at Boston (go Broons), Philly at Toronto (go Leafs?), Tampa Bay at Carolina (go Bolts), Winnipeg at Montreal (go Ha--*, hockey club from Montreal). [*careful of trademark infringement when giving a club gobs and gobs of free publicity]

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Don't pick Lee this time, he's not playing. I'm afraid QPR isn't a good pick either.