Since a close but emphatically disappointing seven-game playoff loss last spring, the Isles have faced their divisional foes twice this season and lost both times -- the first an alarming performance in Brooklyn, the second a much better effort but with the familiar ending of a late Alex Ovechkin winner.
This time at home sees a couple of changes, one by option, one by force. Thomas Greiss, having a great season pushing Jaroslav Halak from the backup spot, gets the start on the first half of this back-to-back. But Calvin de Haan, quietly having a very good and minute-munching season of his own, is out due to injury and replaced by Brian Strait.
Islanders (30-19-6, 3rd/Metro) vs. Capitals (41-10-4, 1st/überalles)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+, audio, WNYE 91.5 FM, WRHU 88.7 FM, LI NEWS 103.9 FM
Brooklyn's [ingloriously sponsored] Center
Seeing Red: Japers' Rink
In the other crease, Braden Holtby's sterling numbers and record have been one key leg in the foundation of the Capitals' runaway-with-the-Metro-like-it's-the-Southeast season. But I suppose there is some "bright" side in his more pedestrian (but still victorious) numbers lately.
Jay Beagle is close to returning but remains out as he has been for all of 2016. Brooks Orpik is back from his long-term injury.
The Capitals (86 points) are running away with the division and quite possibly the league, too. The second-place Blackhawks trail them by five points now -- but the Hawks have a whopping six more games played. The Isles (66 points), meanwhile, have two games in hand on the second-place Smurfs (70 points), three games in hand on the fourth-place Devils (65 points) and the same number of games as the fifth-place Penguins (64 points).
It's like the Patrick Division never dissolved.
Members of Washington's team remember last spring well -- Barry Trotz called it "the most physical series" he's been a part of -- and their old and new faces feel equipped to handle the Islanders' hit parade after defeating the hit-happy Kings a couple of nights ago. We'll see what theater takes place in the latest installment between two teams that could easily meet in the playoffs again.
"I thought one of the best games we played this year was in Washington," Capuano said. "I think it goes down as top-two games that we played this year in all areas of our game.
"We know we can play with them, but at the end of the day there's no moral victories. You have to get results. If we can get out here tonight, and we can start on time and play a good game, it should build some confidence knowing we can play against the best team in the League right now."
No moral victories, though a victory here would sure boost morale.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over this way.
Here's the top 10 in our FIG Pick standings so far:
36 - NYIFanInRI
26 - vallay
24 - Captdallas
23 - 10 to 27 to 23
20 - DoctorOsty
16 - Psi*Psi
16 - zack779
15 - Isle in Dixie
14 - Butchie’s Helmet
10 - Thick McRunfast