WASHINGTON — The Islanders have risen up the Metropolitan Division standings in the first month of the season without playing many familiar opponents. Thursday is a chance to keep climbing against a Capitals team that has been the best in the East and the league the last two seasons.
The Isles have won five of their last six while playing almost exclusively against Western Conference opponents — their lone game against an Eastern Conference team in the past 10 was a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Even Thursday’s game is an anomaly on this early season schedule, with the Isles facing four more Western teams before settling in to a more balanced schedule.
Not that they are complaining. Monday’s 6-3 win over Vegas marked yet another offensive outburst for an Islander team that’s scored 26 goals in its last five games, nine of those by John Tavares. The power play started the season 2 for 33, but is 5 for 10 in the last two games.
“We’re winning a lot of puck battles, getting to those 50-50 pucks that maybe we weren’t a little earlier on,” Tavares said. “You’ve got to take advantage when you get those opportunities and we have been doing that.”
They face a Caps team that’s normally one of the most potent offenses in the league but has struggled out of the gate, coming in to Thursday at 5-6-1 and having been held to two goals or fewer in five of the last seven. Alex Ovechkin had seven goals in the first two games of this season but has just three since. The Caps lost mainstay defenseman Karl Alzner to free agency and forward Marcus Johasson to a trade in the offseason, and are also down regulars Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky to injury.
Jaroslav Halak gets the start on Thursday, his third straight in goal for the Islanders. He and Thomas Greiss alternated starts the first 10 games, but Doug Weight said after Monday’s win that Halak has been better of late.
Notes & quotes: Adam Pelech is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and won’t play Thursday. Thomas Hickey, a healthy scratch the previous two games, goes back in on defense.