There haven't been many similarities lately between the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups this decade, and the New York Islanders, who haven't won a Cup in 35 years and have reached the conference finals once in the last 30 years.
But the Blackhawks and Islanders will have plenty in common Thursday night, when New York hosts Chicago in a battle of teams finding an identity under new head coaches.
The game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., is the fourth of 21 regular-season contests the Islanders will play at their new/old home. New York played at the Coliseum from 1972 to 2015, when it moved to Brooklyn's Barclays Center, where it will play the other 20 regular-season home games.
The Blackhawks will be playing for the second time in 2019 after falling to the Boston Bruins, 4-2, in the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Tuesday. The Islanders extended their winning streak to four Monday night, when they beat the host Buffalo Sabres, 3-1.
The loss to the Bruins marked the fourth defeat in the past 10 games (6-3-1) for the Blackhawks (15-21-6), who have begun to steady themselves under new head coach Jeremy Colliton. The 33-year-old took over behind the bench when likely Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville, who was head coach for all three of Chicago's Cup-winning squads, was fired Nov. 6.
The surge is likely too little and too late to save the playoff hopes for the Blackhawks, whose current run was preceded by their second eight-game losing streak of the season. But Chicago is at least starting to get some reward for the work it has put in under Colliton over the last eight weeks.
"We're trying to develop as a group, and it's easier to ask things of the players when they're getting some positive reinforcement with results," Colliton said following Tuesday's loss.
"It's hard. You end up grinding guys down when you're losing, if you keep asking them to change things and do more and do more. It's a lot easier when you're winning."
The Islanders (21-13-4) have been rewarded plenty for accepting the changes instilled by Hall of Fame general manager Lou Lamoriello, who joined the organization in May, and defensive-minded first-year head coach Barry Trotz, who arrived in New York after coaching the Washington Capitals to the franchise's first Stanley Cup last season.
The Islanders, whose 296 goals allowed last season were the most surrendered in the NHL since 2006-07, will enter Thursday having allowed the fewest goals (102) in the league. New York has won seven of its past eight games, contending for a playoff spot.
Last year, the Islanders missed the playoffs by 17 points even with John Tavares, the superstar center who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in July.
"We're molding to the team that Barry wants us to be," defenseman Nick Leddy said following Monday's win. "We're really starting to understand the last couple of games that getting the puck north, making the easy play, getting pucks to the net and playing team defense is a successful way to play."
The victory Monday was the 783rd for Trotz, which moved him past Al Arbour -- the Hall of Fame coach who led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s -- into fourth place on the NHL's career wins list.
Updated January 2, 2019