Islanders-Canadiens Preview

John Tavares returning to practice is a welcome sight for a New York Islanders team that won only once in three games without him.

The Montreal Canadiens won’t get Carey Price back before the end of the week, but their rookie goaltender is holding up just fine.

Tavares is expected to play as the visiting Islanders look to avoid a fourth straight loss to the Canadiens on Thursday night.

New York (7-3-3) dropped three in a row prior to Tuesday’s 2-1 win over New Jersey as the fourth line provided the spark. Casey Cizikas scored the winning goal with 2:12 left with Matt Martin getting an assist.

They’ve combined with Cal Clutterbuck for six goals and seven assists on the season.

"There’s a purpose to what we do out there,” Clutterbuck said. "Casey and Marty have been together here for years – we’re all capable of contributing the way we know how.”

Their success is the reason coach Jack Capuano can’t bring himself to break up that line regardless of game or roster circumstances.

”There’s just too much continuity with that line,” Capuano said. ”They’re not going to make the sexy play all the time. They’re going to chip pucks in, they’re going to grind it out. They’re going to give us the big goals, and they’re timely goals. Our other lines need to feed off that.”

The top line should get a boost with the return of Tavares, who has a team-high 11 points. Capuano said Tavares had been battling flu-like symptoms, but the captain fully participated in practice Wednesday and appears to have recovered.

Tavares has three goals and seven assists in his last eight against the Canadiens, but the Islanders lost all three meetings last season and are 1-5-1 in the last seven.

Montreal (11-2-1) looks to extend its winning streak in the series behind rookie Mike Condon, who likely will make his fourth straight start in place of Price as the reigning Hart Trophy winner recovers from a lower-body injury.

Condon is 4-0-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average this season and made 25 saves before allowing a goal in overtime of a 2-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any of his five starts, stepping up with Price out.

Montreal is 2-2-1 since beginning the season with nine straight wins, with Tuesday’s loss snapping a five-game home winning streak.

"You’re never happy when you lose," Condon said. "We’ll just take the positives, take the point, and move on."

Dale Weise continues to impress playing on a line with David Desharnais and Tomas Fleischmann. Weise scored the lone goal against the Senators and has seven on the season, including his first career hat trick in Friday’s win over Calgary.

The winger is in his sixth year and hasn’t scored more goals than the 10 he netted last season.

”I feel good,” Weise said. ”I’m playing with some great players. (Desharnais) is so underrated it’s not even funny. (Fleischmann) has amazing hands. I’m just going to try and stay consistent and try to put in as many as I can.”

Former Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak likely will face his old team. He’s 4-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA in six starts this season and 4-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA in five career outings against the Canadiens.