The last time the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals met, it was a home-and-home that began with the Isles in second place and the Capitals in fourth, separated by nine points. A modern NHL-style "split" (each team won a game, yet the Isles left with two points and the Caps left with three) meant this was a Metropolitan Division battle to be continued.
Tonight they meet again, still in the same slot in the divisional standings but now separated by only five points. The Caps, like the Rangers who also have 42 points (but two games in hand), have been on something of a tear lately, going 7-1-2 in their last 10.
If the Caps want to continue their encroachment on the division's home playoff seeds (pro tip: They do.), they could do little better than handing their target a loss right before the Isles begin a stretch of seven consecutive games away from the gloriously unsponsored Nassau Coliseum.
Capitals (18-11-6, 4th/Metro) @ Islanders (23-11-1, 2nd/Metro)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+2 (twice the plus!) | WRHU/WRCN
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Searching for Trotz's Neck: Japers' Rink
The Islanders will field the same lineup they've been running -- all key parts healthy except for Michael Grabner -- with the not-minor exception of Jaroslav Halak coming off his brief IR stay to start tonight. Here's Capuano's morning scrum audio [mp3].
And if you missed it, the fictional pre-game audio for last game made by LHH readers is something to behold, with Vanek jokes and a thunderous Nielsen entrance.
For the Capitals, Braden Holtby is coming off a shutout of the Penguins, which is worthy of a free one-night stay in heaven.
The Islanders are coming off an easy game that they made suddenly hard, blowing a 3-0 third-period lead in Buffalo with some silly mistakes, then losing in extra time for the first time this season. Unlike previous blown 3-0 leads where such a lead masked the fact a high-quality opponent controlled play much of the night, this one was a sudden, brief, and lethal sequence of errors.
The captain on the recent blips (not talking about goaltending, mind you):
"We realize that a couple parts of our game need to be cleaned up a bit, but we’re not far off," John Tavares said. "We are doing some good things. There are just a couple of details in our game that have slipped over the last couple of games and we know we need to be better at."
The Capitals: TV Stars (if you can find the channel)
The Capitals, you may have heard, are in this year's Winter Classic, which is not a Stadium Series(TM) because it's not in a stadium...er, because it is in a stadium but it's a classic stadium, er, because it's...well, it's on New Year's Day so there's that.
Anyway, as in previous years, a Winter Classic opponent meets the Isles shortly before the outdoor game, so they could be a footnote -- hopefully a spoiling one -- in the promo-mentary episodic series being filmed around the Capitals before they host the big event against some Western team that has also been in a bunch of these.
The series airs on something called Epix, "an American hybrid premium cable and satellite television network." Since you've never heard of that, they're also airing the stuff online and at nhl.com etc.
Point is, it's fine it the Caps want to look past this one.
Since this is the last time the Capitals visit the Isles in the regular season, it could be the last time the Caps ever see Nassau Coliseum. Ah, memories:
Leave your First Islanders Goal pick over yonder.