The Penguins come to the Coliseum Friday night, the middle game of a trio of difficult Eastern Conference tests for the Islanders.
In all likelihood, All-Star goaltenders will lead both teams onto the ice. Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury, who have been the MVPs of two teams that have high-wattage stars among their forwards, were named to the All-Star Game Thursday, replacing injured goaltenders Jimmy Howard of the Wings and Pekka Rinne of the Predators.
"It's a big honor, obviously," Halak said just after learning that he will be joining John Tavares in Columbus for the Jan. 25 All-Star Game. "I'm the one who gets to go, but it's a team honor. I couldn't do it without the guys playing so well."
According to two people familiar with the All-Star decision-making process, Halak was very much under consideration when the original group of six goaltenders was selected. But the fans voted in Chicago's Corey Crawford, which ate up a spot. So did the selection of the Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky, a clear nod to the site of the game.
Henrik Lundqvist, who was under consideration during the original selection process, was not asked again once Rinne and Howard went down, according to those same sources.
The league very much wanted the Islanders, who have been at or near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, to have more than one representative. The Penguins had their stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, selected. But Fleury has been by far the Penguins' most important player through an injury-plagued first half.
And while Tavares certainly earned his own All-Star nod, even he knows who has been the biggest reason the Islanders enter tonight's game at 29-13-1.
"He's been our best player this year," Tavares said. "He's come in and fit right in, made that transition. A lot of credit goes to his work ethic, his attitude."
Jack Capuano wouldn't reveal his goaltenders for the back-to-back games tonight and Saturday night in Montreal against the Canadiens. Halak has played on consecutive nights only once this season. He won both, 2-1 over the Wings on Dec. 19 and 3-1 over the Lightning on Dec. 20, but then missed a week with a lower-body injury.
And now Halak won't get to rest next weekend. But it will be well worth it to him to go to work among the NHL's best.
Notes & quotes: Mikhail Grabovski (lower body) and Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body) both skated before practice, but neither is likely to return before Monday's game against the Flyers.