December 22, 2014

After a disappointing stretch, the New York Islanders seem to have found their stride.

Maintaining that momentum could be more difficult now that a peculiar situation has surrounded the team.

Travis Hamonic's tenure with the Islanders likely will come to a close in the near future but he's expected to be in the lineup Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens, who will have Carey Price in net for the first time in three weeks.

News broke Wednesday that Hamonic had requested a trade prior to the start of the season, and the 25-year-old defenseman addressed the media Thursday.

"The root of all this is a personal family matter of mine that I hold dear to my heart," Hamonic told the team's official website. "It has nothing to do with the organization or how I've been treated here for six years of playing and another two or three since I was drafted. I've honestly been treated like gold from the start."

It won't be easy to find a replacement for Hamonic, who is in his sixth season with the Islanders and is the team leader in ice time (23:30).

"You can see the professionalism in him and what a teammate that he's been and what a first-class individual he's been," coach Jack Capuano said. "I've known for a while and it hasn't affected his game. If anything, he's played better."

With Hamonic's help, the Islanders (10-6-3) have been a much-improved defensive team. They're allowing 2.26 goals per game after yielding 2.73 last season, and their penalty killing ranks among the league's best following a 26th-place finish in 2014-15.

While strong defense has been a constant, the offense had been far more inconsistent until a recent stretch where the goals have come more frequently.

The Islanders scored nine times during a 1-3-2 slide but a trip out west appears to have pushed them in the right direction. They won two of three, scoring four goals in each of those wins before returning home Monday with a 5-2 victory over Arizona.

John Tavares scored two goals and set up another while Kyle Okposo had three assists.

"We're getting there. It was a bit of a slow start," Okposo said. "That West Coast trip was good for us, and we just have to keep playing well, keep stringing (wins) together."

Leading the way has been the line of Tavares, Okposo and Brock Nelson, who have combined for seven goals and 10 assists in the past four games.

Montreal (14-4-2) fell behind 3-0 for the third straight game and was unable to come all the way back Thursday in a 3-2 loss to the Coyotes. Max Pacioretty and Dale Weise scored for the Canadiens, who have allowed 16 goals during a 1-2-1 span.

That struggling defense will get a huge lift as Price makes his first appearance since sustaining a lower-body injury Oct. 29 in Edmonton. Last season's NHL MVP and Vezina Trophy winner is 7-2-0 with a .936 save percentage this season.

Price is 5-1-0 with a .955 mark in his last six starts against New York.

"You get a boost when that guy is on the ice," Weise told the team's official website after practice. "He's our best player. He's our biggest leader in this locker room. When you see him getting close like that, everyone gets excited."

The Canadiens have won four straight and seven of eight against the Islanders, including a 4-1 home victory Nov. 5.

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