Blue Jackets take on first place Islanders
The New York Islanders have tied their franchise record for wins at the midway point of a season, and they can thank John Tavares.
The Islanders will look to their captain again Saturday night when they continue a seven-game road trip against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
No longer one of the NHL’s struggling franchises, the Islanders (27-13-1) have matched their win total from 1978-79, and that’s precisely why they’re atop the Metropolitan Division by one point over Pittsburgh.
Tavares has been a big part of that revitalization, leading New York with 19 goals and 39 points, but he’s been particularly important of late.
The star center did all of the Islanders’ scoring in a 2-1 win at Calgary on Jan. 2 before failing to score in the next two games – both losses.
Tavares bounced back in a big way Friday at New Jersey, scoring the tying goal with 6:13 left in regulation before tallying again in overtime in a 3-2 win.
That kept New York from matching a season high with its third straight loss.
"We’re a different team than we’ve been in the last few years," coach Jack Capuano said. "This was different. I could feel that we were coming back. I could feel that we were generating the play. It was just a matter of time. Fortunately, it was overtime. John made a great play, made a great shot and that was it. That’s what he does. He’s a great player."
Friday was Tavares’ first three-point game since the Oct. 10 season opener. He has six goals in the last seven games and the rest of the team has scored 17 in that span.
Tavares has five points in six career meetings with Columbus (18-18-3), but he’s only scored one goal and none in three road matchups.
Most of the Islanders have struggled at Nationwide Arena. They are 1-7-1 with a tie there and have been outscored 16-5 during a three-game skid in Columbus.
Jaroslav Halak improved to 8-2-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average in his last 10 starts with a 21-save effort Friday. However, he could cede the net to Chad Johnson, who hasn’t played since Dec. 23 and is 0-3-0 with a 4.05 GAA in his past three starts.
The Blue Jackets are looking for a better start after giving up four straight goals – two on power plays – in the opening period of a 5-2 loss at Toronto on Friday, settling for a split of a four-game road trip.
"They were bad penalties," coach Todd Richards said of Columbus’ four first-period penalties – one for too many men. "We lost too many battles on the walls, in the corners … You aren’t giving yourself a chance to win."
Opening a three-game homestand could be just what the Jackets need to bounce back. They’re 6-1-1 in their last eight games there, winning the last two while scoring nine goals.
Ryan Johansen opened the season by setting a single-season career high with a point in 10 straight games, and he’s on the brink of matching it.
The center has tallied six times during a five-game goal streak, the longest by a Blue Jacket since Rick Nash’s six-game run in November 2010.
Johansen has one goal and three assists in his past three meetings with the Islanders.
Nick Foligno has put together his own streak, compiling nine points with at least one in six consecutive games.
Sergei Bobrovsky is 10-2-0 with a 1.83 GAA lifetime against the Islanders, though Richards could start Curtis McElhinney on the second of this back-to-back.