December 27 vs. New York Islanders at Barclays Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WFED 1500 and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 20-8-4
New York Islanders 13-14-6
Straight off their three-day holiday break, the Caps get right back into action on Tuesday night when they take on the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. Tuesday’s meeting between the Caps and Islanders is the fourth of five games between the two Metropolitan Division rivals this season, and the third this month.
Washington went into the break on a strong note, taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 4-0 count at Verizon Center on Friday. Braden Holtby made 23 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and the 26
th of his NHL career, and John Carlson netted a pair of goals to lead the Caps’ attack.
All four Washington goals were scored at even strength, marking the first time the Capitals have scored as many as four goals at five-on-five since a 7-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 16.
With Friday's victory over the Lightning, the Caps are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. But they’ve lost ground on front-running Columbus in the Metropolitan Division race during that span, because the Blue Jackets are on a 12-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history.
Tampa Bay did not record a shot on net for the first 13-plus minutes of the game. The Lightning had only two shots on goal on the first period – both of them from long distance – and only 11 in the game’s first 40 minutes.
“I thought we stayed aggressive, especially in the first period,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “We kept it pretty simple and we worked hard. We knew [the Lightning] played [the night before] and traveled too. The key thing for us was the first period. We kept [the puck] deep and kept working their [defensemen]. We didn’t give them much room out there.”
With two assists in the win over Tampa Bay, Backstrom now has 497 for his NHL career. That leaves him three helpers away from becoming the first player ever to reach 500 assists as a member of the Capitals. Since he began his NHL career in 2007-08, only San Jose’s Joe Thornton (536) and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin (533) have more assists than Backstrom.
The Caps’ Friday night win over the Lightning halted a brief two-game slide (0-1-1), and gives Washington a chance to start another winning run if it can get past the Isles. The Capitals have taken two of the three previous meetings between the two teams this season, including a 4-2 win here two weeks ago on Dec. 13 in the first of three games between the Caps and the Isles at Barclays Center.
“It’s good so we can try to build off that momentum on the other side of [the holiday break],” says Carlson, of the win over the Lightning. “I think everyone is looking forward to a couple of days off and [being able to] shut the mind off a little bit, and enjoy ourselves. It’s going to be a crazy next month or month and a half with all the games that we play. So it’s our last time to relax before that.”
Beginning with Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn, the Caps are starting a busy stretch in which they’ll play 17 games in 31 days leading up to the NHL’s annual All-Star break. On the far side of the All-Star break, the Caps will play seven games in 12 nights before benefiting from their “bye week,” a five-day break between games from Feb. 12-16.
Once the bye week is behind them, the Caps will finish off the season at a bit more of a leisurely rate. They’ll play their final 26 games of the season over a span of 51 days.
With 32 standings points in 33 games on the season, the Islanders are tied with Buffalo for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference. New York had a brief positive push, going 5-0-1 over a six-game stretch that ended abruptly with a 6-2 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Dec. 10.
That loss to the Jackets started the Isles off on a five-game slide (0-4-1) that they halted with a pair of wins heading into the holiday break. Behind goaltender Thomas Greiss, the Islanders downed the Bruins in Boston by a 4-2 count a week ago and then thumped Buffalo at home by a 5-1 score on Friday night.
The Islanders are a dozen points back of the last Eastern Conference playoff spot available to them, and they’ll have to heat up significantly and consistently to reach the playoffs for a third straight season, a feat New York has not accomplished in more than a decade. The Isles last made three straight postseason appearances from 2002-04, during the latter stages of Mike Milbury’s tenure as the team’s general manager.
New York is still carrying three netminders – Greiss, Jaroslav Halak and J-F Berube – but Greiss has been the most effective of the three thus far this season. On the season, he is 8-5-0 with a 2.49 GAA and a .922 save pct. Greiss has won three of his four December starts, going 3-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA and a .927 save pct.