With their recent string of victories, the New York Islanders continue proving they merit among the Eastern Conference’s top teams.
The Islanders seek their fifth straight win Wednesday night when they host the opener of a home-and-home set against the Washington Capitals.
New York (15-6-0) won for the ninth time in its last 10 games with a 1-0 shootout victory over Philadelphia on Monday. Jaroslav Halak had 21 saves for the Islanders, who couldn’t get any of their 46 shots past Steve Mason through overtime.
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"We deserved to win that game," coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought we played extremely well and our goalie made some big saves when he had to."
Halak, who will likely start Wednesday, has three shutouts in his last six starts and has not allowed more than three goals since Oct. 28. His 2.23 goals-against average ranks near the top of the NHL.
New York’s four-game win streak includes a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay and back-to-back wins against Pittsburgh over the weekend – two teams that also have amassed 30 points. The Islanders are tied with the Penguins for first in the Metropolitan Division.
"It validates the couple of games we played on the weekend," Kyle Okposo said of Monday’s win. "You don’t want to play those games, have a couple of great wins and then come back and lay an egg. We did a good job of taking it to them, dominating the game and that’s how we need to play."
The success has primarily stemmed from an offensive unit that ranks among the NHL’s leaders with 33.6 shots and 3.05 goals per game.
New York has also benefited greatly from its performances in shootouts, winning all five this season behind a league-leading 10 shootout goals.
Washington (9-8-3) will look to slow the Islanders behind the recent strong play of goalie Braden Holtby, who has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last six starts. He owns a 1.67 goals-against average since Nov. 7. Halak has a 0.97 GAA in the same span.
The Capitals got another strong performance from Holtby at home against Buffalo on Saturday, but lost 2-1 despite setting a season high with 44 shots on goal. Holtby made 26 saves, including 22 after the first period.
"When a goaltender’s good and seeing the puck, then you’ve got to try and make him not see the puck," coach Barry Trotz said. "Need a little more traffic, need second efforts."
Trotz expects a similar challenge against New York, which has not allowed more than 30 shots in its past five games.
"They can be pretty stifling," Trotz said of the Islanders. "They’re playing good hockey. They’re a deep team, really deep up the middle. They have three scoring lines and a real hard fourth line."
Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin is set to play in his 700th NHL game. The three-time Hart Trophy winner has 832 career points after recording 18 in 20 games this season.
Ovechkin has 36 points in 33 games against the Islanders, tallying five in his last four meetings. He scored twice the last time he faced Halak, who allowed three goals on six shots before being pulled in Washington’s 4-1 win over St. Louis on Nov. 17, 2013.
The Capitals have won four of their last five against New York, which dropped the most recent matchup 4-3 in a shootout April 5.
The home-and-home set concludes Friday in Washington.