Tavares, Islanders surge into matchup with Capitals

WASHINGTON -- John Tavares and the New York Islanders roll into Washington Thursday night to face a Washington Capitals team still forging an identity during a season unlike their last two.

The Islanders (7-4-1) have won five of their past six games. Tavares has nine goals and 12 points in his past five games.

He scored twice Monday in New York's 6-3 home win over the Vegas Golden Knights, and Jaroslav Halak stopped 31 shots in winning his fourth straight start.

New York's Josh Bailey had three assists for the second time in three games, and he is tied for sixth in the league with 11 helpers.

"I thought Josh was our best player tonight. He's been doing that for a few games now," New York coach Doug Weight said. "It's a good start. You always feel you left some (points) out there, and I just hope we're learning. Even in the third (Monday), we started feeling good about ourselves and got a little away from things. But we're learning and hopefully getting better every game."

The Islanders didn't earn their seventh win a year ago until Nov. 28.

Tavares is second in the league with 11 goals and is tied for sixth with 15 points.

"It's fun. You win a lot of hockey games with a guy like that producing offensively," New York's Cal Clutterbuck said. "You throw some secondary scoring on top of that, and even if he scores three in a game, six (goals) looks a lot better on the board. It's a lot easier to win with six goals."

Washington will be rested Thursday night, having finished a 1-2-0 Western swing with a 2-1 loss at Calgary on Sunday.

The Capitals (5-6-1) have a chance to make a move with 13 of their next 18 games at home.

"I don't know," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "We haven't been very good at home. I mean, we're 1-3. We'll have to establish something here. I think having last change will help a little bit, sleeping in our own beds a little bit. We have to make home a tough place to play again."

After his torrid start, Alex Ovechkin has gone four games without a goal, but he had four assists over that span, including three in a Saturday win at Edmonton.

Several Capitals pointed to the road trip, a win and two one-goal losses, as having helped them find an identity -- one necessarily different from the recent past when they had a very fast, very skilled offense. With less firepower this year, they have been forced to adapt.

"I think we've seen what works and what doesn't work, so try to do what's working for us as far as managing the puck," T.J. Oshie told NBCsports.com.

One thing that would help the offense is more power-play opportunities.

Washington ranks in the top 10 in power-play scoring percentage but in the bottom third in chances.

"I despise diving, and our guys know it," Trotz said after practice Tuesday. "We don't try to go down easy. We're not getting any penalties. We've got to keep our legs moving, which will help. But we're getting a little bit frustrated because some of the soccer mentality is back in our league a little bit, go down easy."

Ovechkin is averaging over a point per game against the Islanders, with 34 goals and 16 assists in 46 games. Nicklas Backstrom has nine goals and 24 assists in 34 games vs. New York.

Tavares meanwhile, has scored 12 goals and added 14 assists in 26 games against Washington.

Overall for New York, Bailey has a seven-game point streak, and Anders Lee has a point in six straight.

Halak is 8-7 with a 2.66 goals against average and one shutout versus Washington. Washington's Braden Holtby is 12-3-3 with a 2.28 GAA versus New York.

Updated November 2, 2017

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