Blackhawks, Islanders head into break on different paths
The New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks will have nine days off after they meet Tuesday night, but only one team is going to want the chance to reset.
The surprisingly resurgent Islanders will look to carry their winning streak into the All-Star break when they visit Chicago. The struggling Blackhawks will be seeking to build momentum to take into the break.
Both teams earned wins Sunday, followed by a day off. The Islanders notched their fifth straight victory by blanking the visiting Anaheim Ducks, 3-0. The host Blackhawks snapped a five-game losing streak by upsetting the Washington Capitals, 8-5.
The win by the Islanders gave them their second winning streak of at least five games in a month. New York is 15-3-0 since Dec. 15, a stretch that included a six-game winning streak from Dec. 23 through Jan. 5.
The surge has lifted the Islanders, who missed the playoffs by 17 points last season and then lost captain John Tavares as a free agent, into first place in the Metropolitan Division and made new head coach Barry Trotz the most popular man on Long Island. Chants of "FIRST PLACE!" and "BARRY TROTZ!" rained down from a sellout crowd at Nassau Coliseum as Sunday's game concluded.
"The passion, it's great in this rink and (with) the fans," Trotz said afterward. "The passion on the Island -- you go to Home Depot and you're getting high fives. It's not a bad place to play."
While the Islanders probably would like to keep playing through the All-Star break, the time off will allow the reeling Blackhawks a chance to recalibrate in the midst of a second straight lost season. Chicago, which fired three-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6, has suffered through two eight-game losing streaks.
The Blackhawks took solace in remaining competitive during the five-game skid as well with how they bounced back Sunday. Chicago lost four of those games by one goal, all by the same 4-3 score. It had a combined seven one-goal losses in the two eight-game losing streaks.
"Results-wise, not the road trip we wanted," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said Sunday, referring to the losses to the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers that served as the final two defeats of the losing streak. "I liked our response, just even in practice (Saturday). I thought we went to work. We went to work and we got better and we were able to carry that into today."
Two of the NHL's three stars of the week are likely to face each other Tuesday. Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, who earned first star honors after going 3-0-0 with a 19-save shutout against the Ducks on Sunday, is expected to start again in net on Tuesday. He'll be tested by the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, who was named third star after racking up 10 points in three games.
Lehner likely will be opposed in net by Blackhawks rookie Collin Delia, who has taken over the No. 1 job for now with Corey Crawford recovering from a concussion. Delia improved to 4-2-3 as the starter Sunday, when he earned the win after making 34 saves against the Capitals.
Lehner is 1-2-1 in four career games against the Blackhawks. Delia took the loss in his lone appearance against the Islanders Jan. 3, when he stopped 47 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss at Nassau Coliseum.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 22, 2019