Islanders look to end skid vs. Capitals

NEW YORK -- It took a little longer than expected, but the Washington Capitals are right where most forecasters predicted.

Unfortunately for the New York Islanders, the same can be said for them.

A pair of Metropolitan Division contenders will face off Monday night when the Islanders host the Capitals at Barclays Center.

The Capitals earned their season-high fourth consecutive win Friday when they beat the visiting New York Rangers 4-2. The Islanders lost for the third straight game Saturday when they fell to the host Boston Bruins 3-1.

The winning streak is the highlight of a six-week surge for the Capitals (18-11-1), who went 5-6-1 in October but are 13-5-0 since to move into second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Washington, which earned the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team each of the last two seasons, is 8-2-0 since Nov. 16, when it fell to the Colorado Avalanche, 6-2.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen told the Washington Post the loss to the Avalanche -- who finished last in the NHL last season with 70 fewer points than Washington -- served as the turning point for the Capitals, who were once again expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season.

"I think we got our butts chewed a little bit (after the game), rightfully so, and guys stepped up, started playing better," Niskanen said. "Hockey's a lot more fun when you're playing well, playing hard for each other, like we are right now."

The game hasn't been as much fun lately for the Islanders (16-10-3), who went 1-1-2 on a four-game road trip to fall into a tie for the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots with the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York and Pittsburgh are just one point ahead of the ninth-place Rangers.

The Islanders, who missed the playoffs by one point last season and were projected by most to be in the wild-card mix this season, haven't helped themselves lately by allowing the opponent to score the game's first goal in each of the past five games.

Perhaps a return home will help the Islanders get back on track. New York is 8-1-2 at Barclays, where it will play seven of the next eight games.

"Going to try to get the first goal one of these games," Islanders coach Doug Weight said during the team's postgame show Saturday night. "It's going to be good to get home. I think we've had 18 or 19 on the road, so our numbers are good. Now we've got to get home and be homers for a while."

With the Capitals having enjoyed two days off, No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby likely will make his third consecutive start. The Islanders, who have employed an almost even split of the goaltending duties between Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, had yet to announce a starter for Monday.

Holtby made 27 saves in the Friday win. He is 13-3-3 in 19 regular-season games against the Islanders.

Halak made his second straight start Saturday, when he recorded 30 saves. He is 8-8-0 in 16 regular-season games against the Capitals. Greiss, who made his most recent start Tuesday, is 2-1-1 in four regular-season appearances against Washington.

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