Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders looks on after giving up the...

Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders looks on after giving up the fourth goal in the second period against the Capitals at Capital One Arena on Thursday in Washington. Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

Normally this would be no time to start pondering standings and potential playoff matchups and the like — not a mere 36 games into an NHL season.

But this is not a normal time, and the Islanders already have played nearly two-thirds of their regular season, so why not ponder such things?

That goes double when the next game on Thursday and five of the final 20 are against the Capitals, who are in first place in the East — two points ahead of the Islanders — and had won 14 of 16 before a loss to the Rangers Tuesday.

"Oh, for sure, you’re always thinking about that," Jordan Eberle said after practice on Wednesday. "You’re taking a peek at the standings and looking at what’s forming.

"It’s a Washington team we haven’t had obviously success against this year, so it will be nice to get them at home in a time where we’re desperate for a win. If you look at the last couple of games, we’re moving in the wrong direction, so we want to turn this homestand into some wins and start climbing the standings again."

The Islanders play their next six at home and are not in near-term danger of falling out of playoff position.

But because this year’s format does not include interdivision play until the conference final, it is highly likely the Capitals — and/or Penguins — will stand between the Islanders and a return trip to the final four.

Hence the focus on playing well against the Capitals, against whom the Islanders are 0-3 — all on the road.

"Definitely, it’s a team that we look at and want to get past and we’re going to play them a lot," Jean-Gabriel Pageau said.

One point of emphasis, as always: Stop Alex Ovechkin. Entering Wednesday night’s games, he was tied for sixth in the league with 18 goals and had scored 11 goals in his past 12 games. He is 35 years old.

"I didn’t get to really watch Gretzky, but from what I’ve seen from Ovie, I think he’s the best goal-scorer this game’s seen," Eberle said.

Said Pageau: "I mean, it’s impressive, not only his shot but his game overall has been good for years. To be that consistent you need to be super-competitive . . . We’re going to need to be aware whenever he’s on the ice."

Notes & quotes: Coach Barry Trotz said defenseman Noah Dobson, who has not played since March 13 because of COVID-19 protocols, skated again on Wednesday and might play Thursday. "I’ll just check with him tomorrow if he’s good to go," Trotz said. "If he gives me the thumbs up, I assume that he’ll join us." Trotz said Dobson had mild symptoms and "seems to have bounced back quite well." . . . Injured forward Michael Dal Colle will not be available Thursday, Trotz said . . . With New York State opening COVID vaccine shots to all ages next week, do the Islanders have a plan for how to get their players vaccinated? Trotz said he did not have an answer for that yet. "I think you probably have to look at off days and when you can schedule stuff," he said. "I think right now it would be very difficult to schedule stuff, because games get changed all the time here."

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