As expected, the first meeting of the season between the St. Louis Blues and the New York Islanders will pit a team with one of the worst records in the NHL against one vying for a playoff spot.
But the Blues and Islanders will be occupying different spots than most projected Saturday night, when St. Louis hosts New York.
Both teams are coming off home wins Thursday. The Blues beat the Washington Capitals 5-2, and the Islanders edged the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2 in overtime.
The win over the defending Stanley Cup champions continued a recent stretch of solid play for the Blues (16-18-4), who are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games. But St. Louis, which missed the playoffs by one point last season to end a streak of six consecutive postseason appearances, is still in last place in the Central Division and facing an uphill battle to get back into the playoffs.
Even if the win over the Capitals doesn't mark a turning point in a run to the postseason, it could still serve as a seismic moment for the Blues, who ended the game on a 4-1 run after a second-period fight between defenseman Roberto Bortuzzo and Washington right winger Tom Wilson.
Blues center Oskar Sundqvist suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion when Wilson delivered a blindside hit in an exhibition game Sept. 30. Wilson was suspended 14 games, though St. Louis likely didn't feel the matter was closed until Thursday's fight.
"That goes a long way," Blues head coach Craig Berube said following the game. "I thought the timing of it was really good. 'Bortz' is a team guy and that's not an easy thing to do. From what happened in exhibition (play) with the hit, it was good team stuff."
There's plenty of good team stuff happening for the surprising Islanders (22-13-4), who missed the playoffs by 17 points last season and were expected to embark upon a rebuilding phase after captain John Tavares left for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.
But the Islanders have won five straight and eight of nine to surge into playoff contention. After Thursday's win, New York was one point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're happy right now as a team. We're playing good hockey, we're chasing a playoff spot," first-year Islanders goalie Robin Lehner said after Thursday's win.
Lehner signed with New York in July after three seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.
"This is a good group of people that have been nice to me since I got here, the first day," he added. "We've just got to keep building and get better and find a way to keep pushing."
With both teams off Friday, Lehner likely will face the Blues' Jake Allen in a battle of No. 1 goalies.
Lehner continued to grab hold of the Islanders' starting job Thursday, when he recorded 19 saves to earn his sixth straight win.
The 27-year-old has allowed just five goals on 164 shots during his winning streak. He is 4-3-1 in eight career appearances against the Blues.
Allen made his 13th consecutive start Thursday, when he stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn the win over the Capitals. He is 2-2-0 in five games against the Islanders.
Updated January 4, 2019