The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the NHL’s heavyweights for the past two decades, while the New York Islanders have mostly been a punching bag.
Those roles, however, have been reversed in recent meetings between the teams.
The Islanders seek a fifth straight win over the Red Wings, but just their second in seven games overall Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
With no playoff series wins since 1993 and only five postseason appearances, the Islanders have consistently been among the league’s worst teams. Detroit, meanwhile, has made the playoffs in 22 consecutive seasons - the longest streak of any of the four North American major professional sports - and captured four Stanley Cups.
The Red Wings went 8-1-0 with one tie against the Islanders from 2000-07, but the teams have switched places lately. New York is 5-0-1 in the last six meetings, winning four in a row by a combined 17-4 score. Detroit’s last regulation win in the series came Nov. 28, 2003.
Islanders captain John Tavares had a goal and two assists in the most recent matchup, a 5-1 victory Jan. 10, 2012, on Long Island. Tavares has notched at least one point in 17 of 20 games this season, tallying four goals and six assists in his last eight.
That consistent scoring, though, hasn’t led to much success for the Islanders (7-10-3), losers of five of six.
They appeared headed for a second consecutive victory Thursday with a 2-0 lead in the third period against Los Angeles, but the Kings carried the play in the final 20 minutes and scored three unanswered goals - the last coming with 1:27 remaining for a 3-2 win.
“You’re always frustrated when two points slip away,” coach Jack Capuano said. “The big thing is how we respond. We have to find a way.”
Poor third periods have become the norm for Capuano’s team, which has been outscored 13-2 in the final 20 minutes of the last 10 contests.
Kevin Poulin has started three straight and four of five games for New York, going 1-3-0 with a 2.27 goals-against average. He could get the nod again with Evgeni Nabokov posting a dismal .868 save percentage in his past seven games.
Not to be outdone, Detroit (9-5-6) also failed to protect a two-goal lead in the third period in its last game, as Washington rallied for a 4-3 shootout victory Friday. Johan Franzen had two goals and an assist for the Red Wings, who have dropped five straight (0-1-4) but have at least one point in eight of nine (3-1-5).
“Same thing, same outcome but we can’t get frustrated, can’t get discouraged,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Somehow, some way keep a positive mind frame in here and just continue to keep going out there and working because we’re doing a lot of good things.”
Franzen’s two-goal game was a good sign with Detroit desperate for secondary scoring behind Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Those two have combined for 19 of the team’s 50 goals, while linemate Todd Bertuzzi has five.
Howard, who has compiled a 3.03 GAA during the five-game skid, could get a night off Saturday if coach Mike Babcock opts to give Jonas Gustavsson his first start since Oct. 17. Gustavsson is 2-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA in four appearances against the Islanders - all coming with Toronto - while Howard is 0-2-1 with a 3.55 GAA.
The Islanders could get forward Thomas Vanek back after he missed the last three games with an upper-body injury.