WASHINGTON — Barry Trotz isn’t ready to declare the Islanders completely out of their defensive funk after one win that suggests they are.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’re going into Washington. They can make you lose a lot of confidence quickly.”
The Islanders, who did not practice on Monday, will conclude a three-game road trip with a New Year’s Eve matinee against the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals at Capital One Arena. They trail Washington by eight points in the Metropolitan Division (the Islanders have played two fewer games), and the teams have not met since the Islanders lost their season opener, 2-1, on Oct. 4 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders snapped a three-game losing streak, part of a 1-3-1 skid during which they allowed 24 goals, with a 3-1 win at Minnesota on Sunday. It was a back-to-basics win as they regained their defensive-zone structure and got 25 saves from Semyon Varlamov, who is likely to start again on Tuesday.
The complacency that had settled into the Islanders’ game disappeared as they played physically and with intensity against the Wild.
“It’s what we do to get back to our identity,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “That little false sense of entitlement, whatever that was, that’s not how we play. That’s not how anyone views the Islanders. When people view us, it’s usually [as] the underdogs. We need to get back to that. Just getting back to basics, getting back to our style.”
But one game is not a trend, and the Islanders have had a series of ups and downs since ending a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) with a 3-0 loss at Anaheim on Nov. 25. That started the Islanders’ current 8-7-1 run, and they have lost their last three home games.
The Hurricanes, who currently hold the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot, are three points back of the Islanders. They too have played two extra games.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Trotz, returning to Washington for the third time in the regular season since leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018. “I said to the guys that we’ve played the least games in the league. But there’s not any room. We let points slip away at home the last three games, teams are scoring late goals on us. If you get two or three points, it might be the difference of getting in [the playoffs] or getting home ice or being out.”
The Capitals have lost two of three, including Saturday’s 6-4 defeat at Carolina, but are 11-3-4 at home. Alex Ovechkin is tied for third in the NHL with 24 goals.
“We have a chance to finish the year against the class of the league,” Trotz said. “You look at Washington and there’s not any piece missing. They’ve got size, they’ve got skill, they’ve got experience. They’ve won. Washington is a big team that plays heavy. It will be a bit of a man’s game.”
And one that can either reinforce — or sap — the Islanders’ budding confidence.