After playing just four games in a 28-day span, the New York Islanders have embarked on a hectic week of four games in six days — a stretch that could establish the course of their season.
The Islanders look to continue building momentum off their latest pause Saturday afternoon, when they are scheduled to host the Washington Capitals in a battle of Metropolitan Division rivals in Elmont, N.Y.
The Islanders played for the first time in 12 days Thursday night, when Mathew Barzal scored the game-winning goal with 4:53 left in the third period of a 3-2 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils. It was the third straight win and the sixth in nine games (6-2-1) for the Isles, who nevertheless remain at the bottom of the division.
The third-place Capitals, meantime, have had four days off since Monday’s 7-3 home loss to the Boston Bruins. It was Washington’s fourth consecutive defeat.
The Islanders continue to try to dig themselves out from under their 11-game losing streak (Nov. 7-Dec. 5). Although they are 16 points behind the Boston Bruins in the race for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, New York has played just 29 games, the fewest in the NHL and five fewer than the Bruins.
“Everyone knows where we’re at in the standings,” Islanders left winger Zach Parise said Thursday night. “We’ve got a lot of games in hand, so we’ve got to start winning hockey games.”
Thursday’s win over the Devils marked the start of four consecutive games for the Islanders against division foes through Tuesday night. After playing the Capitals, the Islanders are slated to oppose the Philadelphia Flyers in a home-and-home Monday and Tuesday.
Like everyone else in the NHL, the Capitals are no strangers to extended breaks this season. The four-day break between games for Washington marked the fifth time since Dec. 1 the team has been off for at least three straight days.
The pauses have slowed the Capitals, who were 16-4-6 through Dec. 6 — the last games prior to their first three-day break — but are just 4-4-3 since.
Washington has squandered early 2-0 leads in each of its last two games and gave up six unanswered goals in a span of 14:35 bridging the first and second periods Monday.
“I think we’ve had too many breaks,” Capitals center Nic Dowd said Monday night. “Guys have had too many breaks. I think guys want to play hockey and we’re sick of these breaks. I mean, I am, honestly.”
But the latest break might have benefited the Capitals, who practiced twice without star Alex Ovechkin (upper-body injury) before the record-breaking left winger returned to the ice Friday. Ovechkin said after practice he hoped to play against the Islanders.