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Blackhawks hit the road to face surging Islanders

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Chicago is 6-2-2 in its last 10; New York has won seven of eight.

Chicago Blackhawks v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After a brief trip outside, the Blackhawks return to a climate-controlled environment to resume their 2018-19 season Thursday night when they’ll play on the road against the Islanders.

New York was one of the forgotten NHL teams this offseason, expected to head to the bottom of the league standings once No. 1 center John Tavares opted to sign with the Maple Leafs. But the Islanders are in the thick of a tightly-contested Metropolitan Division race thanks to a recent run of red-hot play. The Islanders have won four in a row — most recently a 3-1 game over the Sabres on New Year’s Eve — and seven of their last eight.

Defense has been the biggest strength, with New York allowing one goal or fewer in five of those eight games. New York has allowed just 99 goals this season, only 2.6 per game, the best mark in the league. The goaltending duties have been a virtual even split between veterans Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, with each performing admirably. Greiss’s numbers — .917 save percentage, 2.62 goals-against average — are pretty good but Lehner has been even better at .930 and 2.14, respectively. This defensive effort hasn’t translated to the penalty kill, however, where the Islanders are ranked 21st in the league with a 77.48 conversion rate.

New York’s power play isn’t much better at 15.79 percent, good for 23rd in the league. That’s indicative of the Islanders’ offensive struggles and an ever-increasing number of injuries to forwards hasn’t helped matters. Old friend Andrew Ladd has been on the shelf since November, while Jordan Eberle and Valtteri Filppula each went on down with upper-body injuries in the last week. Each was absent from the morning skate and is not expected to play this evening. The top scoring threats will be 21-year-old center Mathew Barzal (10 goals, 26 assists), Anders Lee (14 goals, 13 assists) and Brock Nelson (12 goals, 12 assists).

For the Blackhawks, a disappointing outcome from Tuesday’s Winter Classic cannot be shaken, but it was another improved performance from a Chicago team that’s still won five of its last seven games and is 6-2-2 in it’s last 10 games, which matches the red-hot start the Blackhawks had to the season. The playoffs remain a longshot, but at least Chicago isn’t starting every game in a 2-0 hole by the midway point of the first period anymore. If the Blackhawks are going to continue to improve their place in the Central Division standings, more depth contributions will be crucial, such as Brendan Perlini’s excellent performance in the Winter Classic.

Collin Delia will start in net for the Blackhawks. Delia is 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .957 save percentage since his callup from the AHL in early December.

This game could have special meaning for coach Jeremy Colliton, as the Islanders selected him in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft and he played 57 games spread across five seasons with this franchise.

Getting Chicago back in the W column is a perfect way to honor that, don’t ya think?

Projected Lineups

Blackhawks

Saad — Toews — Kahun

Anisimov — Strome — Kane

DeBrincat — Kampf — Sikura

Perlini — Kruger — Hayden

Keith — Gustafsson

Forsling — Seabrook

Dahlstrom — Murphy

Delia

Ward

Islanders

LeeNelson — Ho-Sang

Beauvillier — Barzal — Bailey

Dal Colle — Kuhnhackl — Komarov

Martin — Cizikas — Clutterbuck

Leddy — Boychuk

Pelech — Pulock

Toews — Mayfield

Lehner

Greiss

How to Watch

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum; Uniondale, New York

TV: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Chicago