The All-Star break can’t come soon enough for the New York Islanders, whose busy schedule appeared to finally take a toll in their last game.
Before some much-needed time off, they’ll look to win a third straight meeting with the visiting Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
The Islanders (30-14-1) are guaranteed to hold first place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the break. They’ve been working plenty for it lately, though, as this will be their third game in four days and fourth in seven.
New York allowed a goal less than two minutes into the first period against Montreal on Saturday and played catch-up the rest of the way in a 6-4 loss that snapped a four-game winning steak.
Jaroslav Halak, who started the previous night’s 6-3 win over Pittsburgh, gave up all the goals before being pulled four minutes into the third. He’ll head to Columbus for All-Star weekend along with John Tavares, but the rest of the Islanders will have seven days off following this contest.
”I’m not going to use (the packed schedule) as an excuse," coach Jack Capuano said. ”We’ve played a lot of hockey, and when you play a lot of hockey, the best thing you can do is simplify your game. We did not simplify our game.”
Tavares had a goal and an assist and Kyle Okposo had the same line after scoring four goals against the Penguins. The Islanders, though, were outshot for the first time in 16 games.
"I was disappointed in a few guys with their compete level," Capuano said. "If you want to thrive and be a good team in this league, you have to battle every night. We had some guys out there just trying to survive their shifts."
New York looks to head into the break on a positive note by beating the Flyers (18-21-7) for the second time this season. Frans Nielsen and Tavares, who has six goals and two assists in his last eight against Philadelphia, scored in the shootout to give the Islanders a 1-0 victory Nov. 24.
Steve Mason made a season-best 46 saves for Philadelphia, but he’s out at least two weeks with a knee injury. Rob Zepp made his fourth career start Saturday and stopped 24 shots in a 4-3 win over Buffalo.
The Flyers had dropped three of their previous four. R.J. Umberger scored in the second period to end a goal drought of 168 minutes, 50 seconds, the fourth longest in team history.
Former Islanders defenseman Mark Streit also scored for the Flyers, who are fourth in the Metropolitan, 13 points behind Washington and the Rangers.
”No one likes our situation in the standings,” Umberger said. ”But we’re still playing hockey for a living, so we’re going to have fun and dig ourselves out of it one game at a time. With the right attitude that’s how we can do it, and I think we had it (Saturday).”
Zepp, 3-1-0 with a 2.38 goals-against average, will start for Philadelphia, while New York could go with backup Chad Johnson to give Halak a rest before the All-Star game. Johnson beat Columbus 5-2 in his last start Jan. 10 before relieving Halak against Montreal.