Surging Isles take on surprising Blue Jackets (Dec 10, 2016)
The New York Islanders are turning things around after a slow start to the season. Another win over the Columbus Blue Jackets may turn around a few more heads throughout the league.
On Saturday night, in their first meeting this season, the surging Islanders look to continue a couple of streaks over the surprising Blue Jackets, who hope to extend their longest winning run of the season to six games.
After posting victories only six of its first 20 games, New York has bounced back by going 5-0-1, including wins over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the always-tough Washington Capitals and archrival New York Rangers.
"It's a different feeling," the Islanders' Brock Nelson told Newsday. "There's definitely a different energy in here the last couple of weeks or so. It's definitely contagious."
New York (11-10-5) has been dominant in Brooklyn so far, winning nine of 17 games. On the road, the Islanders are just 2-6-1, but a visit to Nationwide Arena doesn't appear to be particularly daunting. New York is going for its fourth straight win in Ohio's capital, and swept all five games in last season's series.
Cal Clutterbuck told Newsday that in spite of the recent run of impressive wins, room for improvement remains.
"We're still not where we need to be," he said. "It's nice to win a bunch of games, but we're still not there yet."
On Friday, Clutterbuck agreed to terms on a five-year extension through 2022-23, and worth a reported $17.5 million. Now in his ninth season and fourth with New York, Clutterbuck has two goals and seven assists in 25 games, and needs two goals to reach 100 for his career.
A key to the Islanders' recent success has been Anders Lee. The fifth-year pro has reeled off seven goals in eight games after scoring only once in his first 18. Lee netted two goals in a game for the second time during his hot streak in New York's 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
"You can go through stretches where nothing seems to be going right, even though you're playing well. And it's really hard to talk the positives when you're not winning games," said Lee, who had two goals and two assists in five games versus the Blue Jackets last season.
Both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss were outstanding against Columbus in 2015-16. Halak won three matchups, stopping 94 of 98 shots for a .959 save percentage, and recorded a shutout. Griess won the other two contests, giving up five goals on 44 shots.
New York coach Jack Capuano told the Islanders' official website that "if we continue to work and do the things we need to do ... we can beat some top teams in the league."
The Blue Jackets can -- and should -- be included among them. Columbus (16-5-4) continued its best start in franchise history with a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
Rookie Lukas Sedlak snapped an 11-game drought without a point by recording his first NHL goal with an assist, and Sam Gagner also had a goal and an assist as he continues to revive his career under John Tortorella.
Now in his 10th season, and still just 27 years old, Gagner has 11 goals in 24 games, putting him on pace for 37. Gagner had just eight goals in 53 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season, and has never scored more than 18 during any campaign.
Gagner, who has three goals and three assists in his last two games, has scored twice and drawn two assists in 10 career games versus the Islanders.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves Friday, and improved to 8-0-1 in his last nine starts when facing at least 30 shots. Though he's lost two of his last three starts versus the Islanders, the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner is 8-2-0 with a 1.88 GAA, a .943 save percentage and a shutout in his career when facing them.
"He's been a rock for us since Day One. He keeps us in the game every time, he and Mac (backup Curtis McElhinney) when he gets his opportunity," Columbus' Cam Atkinson said after Friday's game.
It's not immediately known if Columbus captain Nick Foligno will play Saturday. Foligno, who missed the contest against the Red Wings due to illness, has scored five of his 10 goals this season with the man advantage, and the Blue Jackets have the NHL's top-ranked power-play unit at 24.6 percent.
Columbus has scored nine goals while winning all three games against Metropolitan Division foes this season.