DETROIT — The Islanders have played well during their last seven games, including Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Capitals in Washington. That one actually may have been the best of the seven.
So it stands to reason that the return of Johnny Boychuk, one of the Islanders’ most indispensable players, will elevate the team’s play even more.
Boychuk practiced fully with his teammates at Joe Louis Arena Friday, and coach Jack Capuano all but guaranteed that No. 55 will return for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Red Wings after missing five weeks with a shoulder injury.
“We never want to rush guys back, obviously, and the few extra days were important,” Capuano said of Boychuk, who practiced for three days before the All-Star break and all of this week. “Our defense has been playing pretty well, too.”
The Islanders were 5-5-1 without Boychuk, who crashed into the end boards on New Year’s Eve when he tried to hit Sabres rookie Jack Eichel. The team’s record without Boychuk is mediocre, but the recent 4-2-1 run has shown improvement.
About the worst stretch in the past seven games were the first 40 minutes against the Red Wings on Jan. 25 at Barclays Center, when the Isles fell behind 3-1 and could not rally in the third. But outside of those two sluggish periods, the Islanders have looked more like the team that raced through the first 50 games last season.
John Tavares didn’t record a point Thursday night in Washington, but he could have had three or four assists. He has seven points and 32 shots on goal in the last seven games.
“I think the last six periods have been some of the best hockey we’ve played in a long time,” Capuano said. “As we told the guys, don’t worry about the outcome and just play.”
That’s been working lately. With Boychuk coming back, it should work even better now.
Notes & quotes: Cal Clutterbuck practiced fully Friday despite hobbling off the ice in the third period of Thursday night’s loss. He returned to the game and, despite still looking a little worse for wear, said he felt lucky to have avoided serious injury. He lost an edge and then got a skate blade caught in a seam in the boards, causing his ankle and knee to twist. “I might’ve gotten away with one there,” he said.