SENATORS (12-7-3) at ISLANDERS (8-11-2)
TV: SNET-E, TVA, MSG PLUS
Last 10: Ottawa 6-3-1; New York 4-5-1
Season series: Second of three, first of two at Nassau Coliseum. The Ottawa Senators extended their winning streak over the New York Islanders to four with a 3-1 win at Scotiabank Place on Feb. 19, outscoring them 19-4 over the stretch. One major difference this time is that neither goalie from that game will be available for this one. Ottawa's Craig Anderson is injured, and New York's Rick DiPietro is trying to find his game again with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.
Big story: The question on Long Island is, when will the Islanders win another home game? At 2-8-1, their home record is worst in the NHL by a significant margin, their current losing streak in the Coliseum is at four, and they've been outscored 20-7 there since defeating the New Jersey Devils, 5-1, on Feb. 16. This will be the fourth of a seven-game homestand and an opportunity to exorcise any home-ice demons they may be harboring.
The Senators were one of the hottest teams in the NHL a week ago, having won five in a row before embarking on this six-game road trip and taking 2-1 losses against the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Senators: As frustrating as the Islanders' home performance has been for them, it's been almost as tough for the Senators on the road. After a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 25, Ottawa has managed to score a total of six goals in six February road games, never more than two in any, resulting in a 1-4-1 record.
It didn't get any better in Philadelphia on Saturday, even when some Flyers chippiness resulted in opportunities for the Senators' power play. Instead, a 39-save performance from Ben Bishop went to waste in the 2-1 loss.
"It's an unfortunate one," said Marc Methot, who scored the goal for the Senators. "I thought we gave ourselves a chance coming into the third period, and then we ended up burying ourselves over again with penalties and what not. It's just the way it worked out today."
Islanders: Watching the young core of this team has been entertaining at times, maddening at others. John Tavares has emerged as one of the top talents in the NHL, Kyle Okposo has been playing some of his best hockey the last week or so, and Michael Grabner on a breakaway is sure to get the Coliseum faithful on their feet. The Islanders have led or been tied in the third period in 16 of their 21 games.
Yet they languish in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a playoff spot, but it can be hard to keep frustration from creeping into the dressing room, a task usually given to a tried-and-tested veteran. In this case, one of those veterans happens to be goalie Evgeni Nabokov, the Islanders player with the most playoff experience. Being a goaltender, he has been selective in the instances he has spoken up, but he is a respected voice on a team he believes is on the precipice of a breakout.
"We're right there," he told Newsday. "Maybe people don't want to hear that, but I really feel it. This team is close."
Who's hot: While the Senators' offense struggles due to the absence of Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza, their penalty kill and goaltending has kept them in games. The PK is third-best in the NHL at 89.2 percent. Bishop hasn't allowed more than two goals in six straight starts, winning four of them, though Robin Lehner is likely the starter Sunday. … The Islanders' power play is fifth-best in the League at 23.5 percent; that includes a five-game stretch when they didn't score at all with the man advantage. It skyrockets to a League-best 32.3 percent on the road. Same thing for their penalty kill, also pretty good, seventh overall at 84.9 percent, but that drops to 21st place, 81.2 percent at home.
Injury report: Senators defenseman Mike Lundin took a nasty hit from Flyers forward Harry Zolnierczyk, resulting in a major penalty and game misconduct for Zolnierczyk and a concussion for Lundin. Anderson (ankle) faced shots in practice Friday. Spezza (back) began skating this week and hopes to return before the end of the season. Forward Milan Michalek (knee) is with the team and could return as early as Sunday. … Tavares missed practice Saturday because he was "under the weather," but he should be in the lineup Sunday.
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