According to their recent records over the last 10 games or so, two of the hottest teams in the NHL meet tonight in Denver. But as is always the case, the details of how the New York Islanders (8-1-2 in their last 11) and Colorado Avalanche (8-4 in their last 12) have "heated" up is a little more nuanced.
The Islanders have had improved as well as fortunate special teams during this span. One of their best performances -- a 19-2 shot advantage and two penalty kills in the first 20 minutes against Florida -- ended up being a 5-1 loss, while six of their games during this stretch went to overtime/shootout (4-0-2).
The Avalanche swung through New York and beat the Rangers and Devils by 2-1 scores after losing in Brooklyn, 5-3. They split a home-and-home with tough Central rival Minnesota and won in St. Louis on the back of an outstanding 42-save Semyon Varlamov performance before shutting out the Blackhawks (and mercifully ending Patrick Kane's streak) in Chicago Tuesday night.
So the Islanders have been tough on Western Conference teams (10-2-1), yes, but as Central tenants the Avalanche know tough. Their recent surge puts them at 31 points -- good for second in the cakewalk Pacific, if only they were there, but second-last in the barbarian Central.
The narrative around them is a strong road trip (with those victories cited above) that mitigates their 4-7-1 home record, which they'll try to begin rectifying tonight.
Nothing much new for the Islanders. Jack Capuano said the lineup will be the same, other than Thomas Greiss in goal. Though whether he would return the lines to recent form or go with a mix-up as he did in the second half of the Florida loss is still open:
Asked Cap if he's going back to regular lines and D pairs. "Not sure yet." Guessing that means there'll be changes tonight.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 17, 2015
Three games remain before a five-day break through Christmas. Three more chances to climb back over the Smurfs (one point ahead) and gain ground on the Metro-leading Capitals (five points ahead, and two games in hand) before everyone can take a breath.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here.