December 16, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 1 Recap: Islanders completely overwhelm Caps

The Washington Capitals had not faced the New York Islanders in a Stanley Cup playoff game since the end of the 1992-93 season, a 4-2 Islanders series win, which included Dale Hunter running the Islanders Pierre Turgeon into the boards, resulting in a 21-game suspension the next season.

And no recollection of playoff series with the Isles could be complete without the still-stinging memory of Pat Lafontaine’s Game 7, four-overtime game winner, the “Easter Epic” of April 18-19, 1987 in the longest Game 7 in NHL history.

With those thoughts in mind, then, this version of the Capitals took to the ice in Game 1 against the current Islanders, and it’s as if nothing changed. The Caps were thoroughly outskated, outplayed and outclassed, falling to the Isles 4-1, losing whatever home-ice advantage they might have had.

The Islanders struck first, just 6:06 into the contest, when Brock Nelson stunned Braden Holtby with a wrist shot from the top of the right wing circle after a neutral zone turnover by Troy Brouwer. Nelson made a nice shot, but Holtby never moved his feet and was beaten badly.

 The Caps were overwhelmingly outplayed the entirety of the first period, but sometimes it only takes one shot. As P.A. announcer Wes Johnson announced “one minute remaining in the period,” the Islanders turned it over in their own zone and Brooks Laich tapped it to Marcus Johansson alone in the slot, who whipped it past Jaroslav Halak to tie it up after one.

All things considered, the Caps were fortunate to get out of the frame tied.

It didn’t last long. At the start of the second period, after a lengthy delay for a broken pane of glass behind Holtby, Michael Latta lost a defensive zone draw and Ryan Strome collected the puck and, using the faceoff men as a screen, beat Holtby high shortside for a 2-1 Isles lead.

It became 3-1 at 9:24 of the period. A horrendous defensive shift ended up with Kyle Okposo drawing a pair of defenders, and the puck and landed at the feet of Josh Bailey on the far post, undefended. Holtby made the first save, but Bailey got two more whacks at it and it eventually trickled under Holtby and just over the goal line. After review, the goal stood.

 The Caps started to generate some good scoring chances in the latter part of the second period, but Jason Chimera was assessed a roughing penalty as time ran out of the frame, putting the Caps behind the eight-ball to start the third.

They killed that penalty after a nervous two minutes, and played with a  bit more energy in the final 18 minutes, but to the same effect. The play on the ice also affected the Verizon Center faithful, and in the last four minutes of the game, loud “Let’s Go Islanders” chants could be heard raining down to the playing surface from the upper deck.

Brock Nelson added an empty net goal with just over a minute to play as the Caps couldn’t get back to touch up an icing.

The Caps have little time to stew on this one, as they face the Islanders again Friday night at 7:00 in Game 2. A different Caps team than the one that played Wednesday night will have to show for that one, or this could turn out to be a very short series.

Washington Capitals Round 1 Preview: Caps look for redemption in series against Isles

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after Game Day Practice at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One,, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after morning skate at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals face the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, starting tonight at the Verizon Center. That last part is key, as the Caps won home-ice advantage for this round on the last day of the regular season. It’s a far cry from last year, as the Caps at this time were cleaning out their lockers after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Obviously, a LOT has changed since then. The coach of last year’s team, Adam Oates, was summarily dismissed. Long-time general manager George McPhee was relieved of his duties as well. In came Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz, entrusted to get the organization back into the postseason, and they were largely successful in their first seasons in their positions.

They brought with them a new coaching staff, several new defensemen, and made a series of moves at the trade deadline to bolster the team’s chances down the stretch.

The organizational goal of reaching the postseason was realized with several games left in the regular season, with a very tight Metro Division and Eastern Conference unsettled until the very last. It’s a redemptive measure for the organization, but especially for the players that returned from last year’s team that failed to attain the goal.

After today’s morning skate before Game 1 of the series against the Islanders, several members of the organization spoke about the significance of getting back into the playoffs, and the redemptive nature of earning home-ice advantage for the first round against the Isles.

“When you don’t make [the playoffs], you feel pretty hollow,” Trotz said. He was speaking about a couple of players newer to the organization playing in their first playoffs in a few seasons, but it’s a sentiment that has echoed around Verzion Center and Kettler since last April.

“I think getting back into the [playoff] fray was the number one priority for the group,” said Trotz. “But we hung around in that wildcard position for, it seemed like, 200 days. And then we just said ‘Hey, we gotta ramp it up’ at the end so we were playing well and we did. By doing that we got home-ice advantage. We’ll see if that is a factor in series at all.”

Despite the strong veteran contingent, the Caps rely on some younger players that haven’t participated in this type of atmosphere.

“We’re excited,” veteran winger Joel Ward said. “It’s a good chance for new guys to step in and play at home first and just get their feet wet a little bit and get excited and understand the crowd. We’re stoked for the opportunity to start at home and going to embrace it and hopefully come out with a win tonight.”

For the older players, making the playoffs and earning home-ice for the first round reaffirms what they believe about themselves, the team and the organization.

“We were unhappy with where we were last year.” Troy Brouwer said. “We were packing our bags right now [this time last year] and going home. We wanted to get ourselves back into a playoff situation. We did a good job coming back in the middle of the season and putting ourselves in a good spot to get home-ice in the first round.

“We worked hard since this time last year to get where we are right now. We don’t want to see our efforts diminished. We want to play hard and win.”

This franchise has had its share of demons in the playoffs. Just once in 40 years has it escaped the second round. The history of first round exits and series defeats after holding 3-1 series lead is staggering. It’s hard to write about the excitement of a new playoff series without dredging up old wounds.

Perhaps, missing out on the second season last year will allow the Caps to have a rebirth in the playoffs. You won’t find a single pundit or prognosticator calling for the Caps to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup after a long and grueling playoffs. These Caps come in as something of an underdog.

As Eric Fehr pointed out, they didn’t clinch home-ice until after the Islanders lost a shootout on the last day of the season, so it’s not like they should be seen as prohibitive favorites despite the advantage.

But maybe these Caps, molded in the style of Trotz, will be a better fit for the grinding style of the playoffs.

Trotz was asked what could be the difference in a playoff series, especially one played between two team so close in the standings during the regular season.

“The team that’s willing to stay with it longer. If you’re very even, the team that can execute when they get those moments, those defining moments — a save, a good look, a power play, whatever — there’s gonna be a lot of defining moments. The ones that can grasp those moments, they’re the teams that generally win.”

Starting tonight, the Capitals try once again to be the team that capitalize on those defining moments. History hasn’t been very kind to them in these opportunities. But with the new structure, coaching staff, and style of play, maybe — just maybe — these Caps are better built to take advantage of those moments.

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For a photo gallery of today’s morning skate, click here.

D.C. United Game 1 Recap: United suffers ugly opening loss

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Of course, if you’re building a city, you might want to at least align some bricks or something on the first day. Such limited progress wasn’t really seen Saturday night at RFK Stadium, as D.C. United were steamrolled at home, 3-0, by the Columbus Crew before 13,540. Federico Higuain scored twice and Jairo Arrieta added the other, as United is now winless in its last 13 Major League Soccer matches going back to last season.

While the talking point for many will be the penalty awarded by replacement referee Andres Pfefferkorn that led to the Crew’s second goal, there is very little reason to think that had the call not been given and the match stayed at 1-0 to Columbus, that United wouldn’t have lost anyway. Much like last year, United were anemic offensively, taking just one shot on goal (from 11 attempts). And that shot was from defender Christian Fernandez. [Read more…]

D.C. United Game 1 Preview: For United, it has to get better, right?

For D.C. United players, coaches, management, and fans, it’s finally time to realistically hope that the 2013 Major League Soccer season is just a memory. Sure, it’s worth remembering United’s run in the U.S. Open Cup, which culminated in a 1-0 win at Real Salt Lake that saw United win its 13th major trophy since beginning play in MLS’ inaugural season of 1996.

But 2013 also ended with United having won just three of 34 regular-season matches, so far out of a playoff spot supporters would have needed a telescope to find them. Quick bounce-backs to respectability aren’t necessarily rare in MLS, and to some extent, one can’t even imagine United having a season worse than it did last year, even if there were no changes in personnel since a 2-1 loss to Houston on October 27 put the final touches on a 3-24-7 campaign. [Read more…]

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