April 19, 2021

Caps-Islanders Round 1 Preview: Once more against Halak

The Washington Capitals sit 16 wins away from claiming their first Stanley Cup, four of which must come against the New York Islanders. Here’s a breakdown of their first round matchup.

Islanders offense vs. Caps defense

Islanders: 2.99 goals per game (4th), 175 5-on-5 goals (4th), 33.8 shots per game (2nd), .592 win percentage when scoring first (25th), .545 win percentage when trailing first (1st)

Caps: 2.43 goals against per game (7th), 140 5-on-5 goals against (12th), 28.9 shots allowed per game (11th)

The main weapon on the Islanders is John Tavares, the 24-year-old superstar who finished second in the NHL in points this season. The offense hinges on him, but not in the same way the Caps’ offense hinges on Alex Ovechkin. The dynamic center is just as adept at setting up goals as he is at scoring them and leads the team both in goals (38) and assists (48). For much of his career, the Islanders have relied far too much on Tavares to carry their offense but that is no longer the case. Kyle Okposo is second on the team in points despite missing 22 games with a detached retina and provides a major threat on the Islanders’ second line. They also have had young talent step up with Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee all enjoying breakout seasons. [Read more…]

Looking at Caps’ possible playoff matchups

As the Washington Capitals inch closer to a playoff berth, it’s time to start looking ahead at possible playoff matchups.

Though the Caps have only five games left on their schedule, there are still a handful of teams they can meet in the first round. Here’s a look at all the teams the Caps could face and how they match up against them.

New York Rangers

Caps record against them this season: 1-2-0 with one game remaining

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Rangers win the Metropolitan division and the Caps finish in a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner would play which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and are even better this year ranking in the top three in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. They are incredibly fast and incredibly deep. When Keith Yandle is on your third defensive pair, you do not have many holes on your roster. While the Caps boast the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers boast the second leading scorer in Rick Nash.

Why the Caps can beat them: Henrik Lundqvist has only played once since Feb. 2 and has only a few games to get back into form. Even though Cam Talbot has played well in relief, there is no question who the team’s top netminder is. If he’s not back to form by the start of the playoffs, that’s a major blow.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Not only are the Rangers the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are also the worst matchup for the Caps. The Caps have no answer for the Rangers’ speed and the defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been a nightmare for Ovechkin in the past. With secondary scoring a major weakness for the Caps, it’s hard to figure out just how the Caps will score against Lundqvist and a defensive pair capable of shutting down Ovechkin. If you think Sunday’s win over the Rangers was a hopeful sign, keep in mind that the Caps were dominated by the Rangers in their first two meetings this season and for the first two periods on Sunday. The Rangers could have easily blown that game wide open, but missed several open opportunities in which they had Holtby beat. In a best of seven series, the Caps’ effort on Sunday would not be good enough to win four of those seven games.

New York Islanders

Caps record against them this season: 2-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Penguins fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: John Tavares is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league helping the Islanders score the fourth most 5-on-5 goals this season. For all their current struggles, at one time the Islanders were far and away the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Jaroslav Halak in net is a wild card. He has been good not great this season, but every Caps fan knows how good he is capable of being in the playoffs. He carried a worse Montreal team all the way to the conference finals in 2010, he could certainly help this Islanders team go just as far.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Islanders have been reeling with seven losses in their last nine games. They are also relatively inexperienced and rank 21st in the NHL in goals against per game.

Chances the Caps win the series: High. It is always good for a team to get hot at the right time, but the Islanders have been fading down the stretch. They have gone from being the division leader to a tie with Pittsburgh for second place and trailing the Rangers by a wide margin. This will not be a confident group going into the postseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Caps record against them this season: 3-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Islanders fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Caps may have won the first three meetings this season, but the Penguins finally seemed to figure things out in their final matchup with a 4-3 win that was not as close as the score indicates. After failing to get any traffic at all in front of Braden Holtby, the Penguins were all over the Caps netminder and the crease. It certainly looked as if they had found the formula for beating the Caps in that fourth game.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Caps have dominated the season series, winning three of their four games in commanding fashion. In their first three games, the Caps beat the Penguins by a score of 10-1. The Penguins just cannot stay healthy this season. They got back Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Saturday just to lose Kris Letang to a concussion.

Chances the Caps win the series: 50/50. Two of the Caps best games this season were their first two wins against Pittsburgh in which they completely dominated. It’s hard to have much faith in Marc-Andre Fleury who is rapidly becoming Jose Theodore — great in the regular season, lousy in the playoffs. Secondary scoring won’t be an issue if Ovechkin scores at the rate he has against Pittsburgh so far this year with four goals and one assist in four games. The Penguins don’t have the defense to shut him down. Having said all of that, it’s the Penguins and they always seem to find a way to beat the Caps in the playoffs. Pittsburgh played poorly in their first three games against the Caps and they know it. When they finally get pressure on the net, they came out on top. Their gameplan would be to drive the crease hard and play physically against Holtby. That should scare Caps fans considering backup goaltending is a weakness. That’s not to say that the Penguins would intentionally try to hurt Holtby, but they certainly would not let him leave this series without a few bumps and bruises.

Montreal Canadiens

Caps record against them this season: 0-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: Montreal wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: Two words, Carey Price. The likely league MVP has been unreal this year and leads the NHL in GAA (1.88) and save percentage (.937) among goalies with at least 20 starts this season. Those are some crazy numbers.

Why the Caps can beat them: Take away Price and Montreal is actually a pretty mediocre team. Led by Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens are 23rd in the NHL in goals per game. With all due respect to Pacioretty, Montreal lacks an offensive superstar on their roster who is capable of taking over a series.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Can Price actually carry Montreal past the Caps in a best of seven series? Absolutely give how he has been playing. A mediocre Montreal team with a hot goalie? The Capitals know how lethal that combination can be and this time the Canadiens will have home ice advantage. With P.K. Subban on defense, Montreal will sell out on stopping Ovechkin and the Caps do not have enough other weapons to beat Price.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Caps record against them this season: 2-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: Tampa Bay wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team

Why they can beat the Caps: Good luck stopping the Lightning’s offense, the best in the NHL this season. Not only do they have Steven Stamkos, but they have three other players who also have passed the 20-goal mark (the Caps only have one as Troy Brouwer has exactly 20 goals) and have five players with over 50 points (the Caps have two). Most importantly, it’s not an offense that is dependent on the power play as they have scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season.

Why the Caps can beat them: Ben Bishop may be a towering presence in net, but with a paltry .914 save percentage this season he has failed to establish himself as the dominating goalie a team needs for a deep playoff run. After getting swept in the playoffs last season by Montreal, you have to wonder how high confidence will be in Tampa this year.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slight edge to Tampa Bay. There will be plenty of scoring to go around in this one. The Caps defense won’t be able to bottle up Stamkos and Co. while Ovechkin will get his points against the unproven Bishop. The problem for the Caps is that they are absolutely awful when they do not score first. The only team with fewer wins than the Caps this season after conceding the first goal is Buffalo. They are a completely different team when they are down early, a position they could easily find themselves in often against an offense as lethal as Tampa’s. How confident are you that the Caps can score first in four out of seven games against the best offense in the NHL?

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders Dec. 29

The Washington Capitals forced overtime on the Island and escaped with a point after a furious three-goal third period comeback. Eric Fehr, Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin all tallied. Brooks Orpik injured a knee, but team sources think it’s not quite as bad as it might have looked. An eventful night two days before the Winter Classic.

First Star: Eric Fehr. His 10th goal of the season (I know, right) got the comeback started. It was another greasy one, as Fehr got dumped on his keister in the crease after the shot went through. Fehr is in double-digits, just one coming on the power play. Speaking of which, Caps had four extra-man opportunities, Fehr got 0:00 of power play time.

Second Star: Alex Ovechkin. His goal was a beaut, a long-range wrister that Jaroslav Halak simply couldn’t get his glove up in time to stop. Six shots on goal, five hits and an assist on Backstrom’s marker, springing his running mate for the layup.

Third Star: Brooks Laich. Assisted on Fehr’s goal and was in the crease himself when the puck went in, had four shots, blocked two shots and was on the ice for 5:13 of short-handedness.

Goat of the night: Evgeny Kuznetsov. The young Russian has spent some time in coach Barry Trotz’ doghouse this season, and his four-minute high-sticking penalty with 1:04 left in regulation, that carried over to overtime, and eventually ended with Johnny Boychuk’s game-winning goal at 2:53 of the extra session, will not go over so well with the brass.

Washington Capitals Game 36 Recap: Caps force OT, but lose game and Orpik

Two nights after perhaps their best game under Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals had to battle back from a 3-0 deficit to earn a point on Long Island. The comeback wasn’t enough, however, as the Caps fell to the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime.

Even more damaging than the overtime loss, however, may have been the loss of defenseman Brooks Orpik. Late in the third, Orpik went in for a hit on Cal Clutterbuck and took an awkward hit to the knee. Replays were fairly gruesome and Orpik had to be helped off the ice. He did not return and the team said he would be evaluated Tuesday.

For much of the game, the Islanders had their way with the Caps, taking a 3-0 lead in the third before the Caps finally began to get some pressure on Jaroslav Halak. Two quick tallies from Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom brought the Caps right back in it. Alex Ovechkin capped off the comeback with a blistering wrist shot off of a face off.

The team’s euphoria was short lived, however, when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a double minor for high sticking that bled into overtime. The Caps managed to kill 3:50 of the four minute penalty before Johnny Boychuk beat Braden Holtby for the game winner.

Game notes:

  • The Islanders had the worst penalty kill in the NHL heading into this game, yet the Caps went 0 for 4 on the night. When good teams give you opportunities on the power play, you have to take advantage, especially early. All four of New York’s penalties came in the first two periods. How different would this game have been if the Caps had scored even once?
  • Speaking of penalties, the Caps gave up seven to New York. That would be far too many against Edmonton, let alone the Islanders. You can quibble over the double minor to Kuznetsov as it was totally inadvertent and did not warrant a four minute penalty, but that’s still too many.
  • Orpik will be evaluated on Tuesday but it seems pretty safe to say he is going to miss significant time. The replay looked pretty gruesome and the Caps will be lucky if he’s not out for quite awhile. The question is how will the team make up for the absence of one of their most consistent defensemen and best penalty killers. Most likely Nate Schmidt will find his way back in the lineup, but perhaps a call to Hershey will be in order as well.
  • Kuznetsov had a pretty terrible game with only one shot on goal and the decisive double minor penalty. Trotz has already sat the young Russian before as a healthy scratch and with Andre Burakovsky waiting to get back in the lineup, you have to wonder if Kuznetsov just cost himself the Winter Classic.
  • The Caps’ win on Saturday was one of their best games of the season because the team gave a full 60-minute effort. They were the better team from start to finish. Everyone has their own theories on how to ‘fix’ the Caps, but one thing they need to do is start playing with a more consistent effort. They were the better team for about 10 minutes on Tuesday and they still managed a point against one of the NHL’s best teams. How good could the Caps be if they played up to their potential for 60 minutes every night?
  • You have to feel for Braden Holtby. He made 35 saves against 39 shots and allowed four goals, but none were his fault. The first two game off ridiculous deflections, the third was the result of bad turnovers and the fourth was on a four-on-three penalty kill in overtime. People who didn’t watch the game will see four goals in the box score and think Holtby is cooling off, but really he could not have done anything more to help his team pull out the win.
  • Don’t look now, but the next time the Caps take to the ice, it will be at Nationals Park against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Winter Classic is officially on tap.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders 11/28/14

While you were eating (or maybe doing the wave at the Verizon Center, shame on you), the Washington Capitals took the home portion of this week’s home-and-home series against the New York Islanders. While they could hardly muster any enthusiasm on the Island (who can blame them, really), the Capitals overcame a slow start to win 5-2.

First Star: Matt Niskanen. The defenseman collected three assists in the game, his second career 3-assist game, and led all Caps skaters in ice time with 22:35. He’s earned a point in three consecutive games (1g, 4a). Mike Green’s absence, which might be extensive at this point, has been a good opportunity for Niskanen to showcase his offensive.

Second Star: Braden Holtby. In his eighth win of the season, Holtby stopped 26 of 28 shots with a SV% of .929. Holtby is 5-2-1 in his last seven starts, with a 1.61 GAA, and a .938 SV%. With his 68th win, Holtby is now sixth on the Capitals’ franchise wins list.

Third Star: Marcus Johansson. The Swede marked his fourth multi-point game of the season with one goal and one assist. Johansson finished the night with three shots on goal and one hit. He has 16 points on the season (7g, 9a), and has earned points in three straight games.

Honorable mention: Evgeny Kuznetsov collected two points in the contest, a goal and an assist, his second and sixth respectively. It was the second multi-point game of his career.

 

Washington Capitals Game 21 Recap: Tavares’ OT winner drops Caps

John Tavares scored with 24 seconds remaining in overtime and the New York Islanders dropped the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday at the soon-to-be defunct Nassau Coliseum.

Tavares deked Karl Alzner to a knee, then wristed a shot through traffic to beat Braden Holtby. The goal came with Nick Backstrom in the penalty box for a holding-the-stick penalty.

The Islanders (16-6-0) won their fifth in a row and 10th of 11, and they are undefeated in seven extra-time games this season. Goalie Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves for his eighth straight win.

Alex Ovechkin scored two power play goal for the Caps (9-8-4), who have lost four of their last six games.

The teams will face off again Friday at Verizon Center.

The Islanders, proving to be one of the top teams in the conference, jumped out early, with Anders Lee scoring his fourth of the season just 5:11 in. Ovechkin responded with his first power play goal — his tenth of the season overall — at 13:46, slamming home a feed from Matt Niskanen from his familiar perch in the left wing faceoff circle.

Four minutes later, New York went back up on a power play marker of its own, as Travis Hamonic’s wrist shot from the center point got through a maze of bodies and past Holtby (32 saves).

Ovechkin tied it less than two minutes into the second period, converting a cross-crease pass from Backstrom past a splayed Halak.

Washington Capitals Game 78 Recap: Caps rally to beat Islanders in shootout, 4-3

With their chances at the postseason dwindling to almost nothing after Friday’s loss, the Washington Capitals headed to face the New York Islanders in the first of two back-to-back games they will play in the next week. The Capitals rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game late in the second period and take the game to the shootout, winning 4-3.

Braden Holtby started the second game of the back-to-back games, a smart coaching decision by Adam Oates. Holtby was stellar, and stopped 33 of 36 shots faced in regulation and overtime, and stopped all Islanders shooters in the shootout as well.

The Capitals let the Islanders dictate the pace of the game in the first period, allowing 17 shots in the 20-minute frame. They were fortunate to escape the period only down 0-1.

Lack of urgency has been an evident problem for the Capitals lately. They simply have not looked like a team that wants to win games and secure the postseason. During the second period, they only managed 4 shots on goal through 10 minutes.

In that span, the Islanders scored two goals and the Capitals one. Down 3-1, it looked over for the Capitals, but they have a penchant for comebacks in Long Island.

Adding to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s early second period tally, Nicklas Backstrom scored his 15th goal of the season. Joel Ward sweetened the pot with his 23rd of the season, late in the second period. The most notable thing about this game was not the comeback, but the fact that each Capitals goal was scored at even strength. They went 0-for-5 on the power play.

Mike Green and Jason Chimera collided during the first period in what will likely go down as the worst breakout of all time, causing Green to sit out the rest of the game, and forcing the Capitals to roll five defensemen. Not ideal, but Holtby kept the Capitals in the game, as he has many times this season.

The chances of the Capitals actually making the playoffs are still statistically very slim, even if the Leafs lose the rest of their games. If they’d pulled a point or two out of last night’s game against the Devils, they may still have a pulse, but the postseason is probably out of reach for the Capitals at this point.

Washington Capitals Game 57 Recap: Capitals shut out 1-0 by Islanders, but Neuvirth solid in third straight start

In the Washington Capitals’ crucial Metropolitan Division matchup against the New York Islanders, both teams were scoreless after two periods, which hadn’t even occurred once in any of the Capitals 57 games this season. The Capitals also desperately needed a win against a divisional opponent to stay in the playoff hunt, but fell short and were shut out 1-0 by Evgeny Nabokov and the Islanders.

The Capitals’ power play struggles continued, even against the Islanders’ league worst penalty kill. For a team that relies as heavily on the man advantage to score as the Capitals do, going 0-for-6 on the power play is not an ideal situation.

On the other hand, it isn’t good to rely on the man advantage as much as the Capitals have this season. Teams don’t get as many power plays in the playoffs, so they have to find ways to score at even strength, something the Capitals have had difficulty doing consistently.

Stringing a few wins together would probably help the Capitals postseason chances. Karl Alzner cautioned against the team going “win one, lose one, the rest of the way.” Adam Oates agreed that close games like the 1-0 decision Tuesday to the Islanders are games that playoff teams have to win.

He didn’t imply that the Capitals are not a playoff team, but he has a good point. Much has been made over the last several years of the Capitals’ lack of “killer instinct” or, more formally, taking advantage of an opponent while they are vulnerable. The Islanders are drowning in the Metro Division and have the worst penalty kill in the league, but the Capitals couldn’t throw a knockout punch while the Islanders were exposed.

Michael Neuvirth was solid in his third straight start, his third game in five days. He stopped 27 of 28 shots, and certainly deserved better that what he got from his teammates – five penalty kills and no goal support.

“We just have to stay out of the penalty box,” said Eric Fehr. “We’ve been doing this to ourselves for the past two weeks. Takes the momentum right out of the game.”

Oates also pointed to weariness as a factor in the loss. “Maybe a little fatigue for the boys,” he said. “We played a lot of hockey. It is tough sledding out there, game in and game out, and you’re fighting a lot of uphill battles. I didn’t think they executed either. Both power plays were pretty ineffective, and their goalie played well early. Neuvy [Michal Neuvirth] played well the whole game. We didn’t test them much late.”

The Capitals take on the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday to round out their homestand before the Olympic break.

Washington Capitals Game 27: Capitals beat Islanders 3-2 in OT thriller

Martin Erat plays the puck behind the Islanders net. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Martin Erat plays the puck behind the Islanders net. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After going on a four-game losing skid, the Washington Capitals have strung a couple of wins together this holiday weekend, winning at home against Montreal on Friday and on the road against the New York Islanders in OT, 3-2.

The first period was bereft of much excitement, aside from a strong start from both teams, and a cornucopia of scoring chances for both. The Caps controlled possession, but were outshot by the Isles, but the period ended in a scoreless tie.

Midway through the second period, the third line of Martin Erat (who got to dress tonight thanks to Brooks Laich’s absence), Aaron Volpatti, and Tom Wilson got the Caps on the board. Erat made a smart play behind the net to get the puck to Wilson, who threw it on net. Isles goaltender Anders Nilsson gave up the rebound, which Volpatti then swatted in.

The Islanders tied things up with a shorthanded tally by Cal Clutterbuck on the Capitals’ only power play of the game early in the third. With less than two minutes left to play, Thomas Vanek gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead on an odd play in the Caps zone.

Braden Holtby appeared to have the puck frozen under his glove – which would typically warrant a whistle in most cases. The puck popped out and Holtby lost it in the shuffle, leading to the Islanders goal.

The Caps attempted to pull Holtby late with a little over a minute left, but Mike Green was called for interference on Michael Grabner, and the hopes of a late game-tying goal for the Capitals looked a bit bleak.

Nicklas Backstrom broke a 12-game goalless streak with his shorthanded game-tying goal with under a minute left. He’d gone 5 games without a point, his longest drought since 2010.

Alex Ovechkin made quick work of the overtime period, scoring his 21st goal of the season with just under three minutes to play. He has 5 career game-winning goals against the Islanders alone.

Holtby was brilliant again tonight, stopping 32 of 34 shots directed at the Caps’ net. It was the 23rd time this season the Capitals have allowed 30 or more shots out of the 27 they’ve played so far this season.

Dmitry Orlov finally got a sweater tonight, too, his season debut. He logged 13:41 of ice time, and had a solid, if uneventful outing.

Washington Capitals Game 15 Recap: Caps special in 6-2 win over Islanders

OVECHKIN WITH PAIR OF GOALS IN RETURN FROM UPPER BODY INJURY

The Washington Capitals, paced by five second period goals, leapfrogged the New York Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, beating their once-and-current rivals 6-2 before a not-quite packed Verizon Center Tuesday night. The Caps made good on 4-of-6 power play opportunities and their captain, Alex Ovechkin, scored twice after missing two games with an upper body injury.

“Our power play clicks almost all of the time,” head coach Adam Oates said. “We talk about it all the time, ‘we stop ourselves.’ We should be in a position that we should feel that on a given night we stop ourselves, they don’t stop us.”

It was Ovechkin’s third multi-goal and third three-point games of the season. [Read more…]

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