WASHINGTON — The New York Islanders avoided a disastrous defeat Wednesday night and now have a chance to notch their first three-game winning streak of the season.
The Islanders (8-10-4) squandered a 3-0 third-period lead before Anders Lee scored with 26.6 seconds left and Nikolay Kulemin added an empty netter three seconds later to give New York a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After beating the Penguins, who are second in the Metropolitan Division, the last-place Islanders travel to Washington Thursday for their first meeting of the season with the Capitals (13-6-2), who are tied for third.
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Wednesday's fantastic finish likely made it easier for the struggling Islanders to talk about the third-period collapse that preceded it.
“We've faced enough adversity for a season, I think,” Lee said. “We've been frustrated and it's been a tough start. We dug ourselves a hole, but we dug ourselves out of one tonight.”
The Islanders have won two in a row for the first time since the fifth and sixth games of the season.
“I think the thing is, with us, we've just got to trust that when you stick with it, it's just going to turn around,” Cal Clutterbuck said of New York, which was 2-5-4 in November prior to Monday's win.
Washington, the defending Presidents' Trophy winner, has been scuffling a bit as well and is just 5-5 over their last 10 games.
After finishing with the league's fifth-best power play last season (21.9 percent success rate), the Capitals are currently ranked 19th, scoring just 15.6 percent of the time.
“It's … a little bit of finish, a little bit of hunger,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We're entering as well as we have. We have the possession time. We need to get the back of the net. How do you get the back of the net? We've got to hit the net (with our shots). We've got to be hungry when there is a rebound.”
Their penalty-killing has suffered as well. Washington was second in the NHL last season, killing off 85.2 percent of penalties against them. This year, they've fallen to 17th, stopping 82.6 percent.
The Capitals have been called for 39 minors in the last eight games and Trotz said Monday he's issued warnings to repeat offenders.
“They're sort of warnings that if you're a penalty killer, you can't kill penalties from the box,” Trotz told the Washington Post. “Most of them are from not moving their feet. To me, (that means) you're getting on the wrong side of people, or you're instinctively grabbing versus moving your feet.
“So a lot of that can come out, and it will. Either they will change, or I will change it for them.”
Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in assists (14) and points (20), while Alex Ovechkin has 12 goals and six assists.
Versus the Islanders, Ovechkin has 32 goals and 15 assists in 42 games, while Backstrom has nine goals and 24 assists in 32 games.
Braden Holtby is 11-1-3 in his career with a 2.13 goals against average and .930 save percentage against the Islanders.
New York's Thomas Greiss started against the Penguins, which means Jaroslav Halak (3-6, 3.08) could start Thursday night. He's 6-6 with a 2.73 goals against and .897 save percentage against the Capitals.
John Tavares has 12 goals and 12 assist in 26 games versus Washington.
Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen (lower body), who was injured in Saturday's loss to Toronto, practiced Wednesday. He has appeared in 185 consecutive games since joining the Capitals.
“We'll see,” he said regarding playing Thursday night. “I felt good out there.”
Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (broken jaw), who missed the last seven games, is working out with the team but isn't expected to return until at least this weekend.
Washington recalled 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana and Paul Carey from AHL Hershey and re-assigned rookie Zach Sanford to Hershey. Vrana could make his NHL debut Thursday night.