Islanders hosting Ducks with both on hot streak
The New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks were traveling the most dissimilar paths in the NHL for most of the last month. But the two teams will both carry winning streaks into action Sunday afternoon, when the Islanders host the Ducks at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Islanders were off Saturday after earning their fourth straight win Friday night, a 2-0 victory over the visiting Washington Capitals. The Ducks will be completing a back-to-back Eastern Conference swing after edging the host New Jersey Devils, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon.
The win Friday was the 14th in the last 17 games dating back to Dec. 15 for the Islanders, who at least momentarily moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division by virtue of beating the Capitals. New York, which hasn't won a division title since the 1987-88 season, has been in first place this late in a season just twice since the 1990-91 campaign.
The Islanders weren't expected to occupy such exclusive real estate after missing the playoffs by 17 points last season and losing John Tavares via free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But they've vaulted into playoff contention thanks to new head coach Barry Trotz and new general manager Lou Lamoriello, who have shored up the league's worst defense -- New York allowed the most goals in the NHL last year (296) but will enter Sunday having allowed the fewest (119) thus far -- and changed the culture of the organization.
"It's a day-to-day process to keep growing as a team," Trotz said following Friday's win. "I don't know where we're going to end up. Right now, we've had a good stretch."
Nobody had as bad a stretch as the Ducks from Dec. 18 through Jan. 15, when they lost a franchise-record 12 straight games (0-8-4). But despite the historic funk, Anaheim is actually in the thick of the wild card race in the Western Conference after the back-to-back wins over the Minnesota Wild and the Devils.
Of course, after such a rough spell, the Ducks aren't exactly popping champagne over their winning streak or placement in the playoff derby.
"It wasn't our best game, but we got the win," Ducks right winger Daniel Sprong said after scoring a goal Saturday afternoon. "That's all that matters. Now it's on to (Sunday)."
The Ducks are likely to stick with hot goalie John Gibson even in the second game of a back-to-back set.
Gibson earned the win Saturday, when he made 29 saves against the Devils. He has stopped 66 of 68 shots in Anaheim's last two wins. Gibson was the goalie of record in 10 of the 12 losses, though he gave up more than three goals just four times in that stretch.
Islanders number one goalie Robin Lehner should return after sitting Friday night, when backup goalie Thomas Greiss earned a shutout by stopping all 19 shots he faced against the Capitals. Lehner last played Thursday, when he recorded the win by making 16 saves in New York's 4-1 win over the Devils.
Gibson is 2-0-1 in four career games against the Islanders. Lehner is 0-2-1 in four appearances against the Ducks.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 20, 2019