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Capitals vs. Islanders Recap: Poor Execution, Predictable Result - Caps Lose Game One

Washington loses the game and home-ice advantage and they only have themselves to blame

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ice Tracker - Game Summary - Event Summary - Shot Report - Faceoff Summary - Play-by-Play - Home TOI - Visitor TOI - Advanced Stats at: war-on-ice, hockeystats, Natural Stat Trick and more via Nice Time On Ice

So that's what a playoff game feels like. After a year off, you'd be forgiven if you'd forgotten the stress. The despair. The exhilaration. The nausea.

With the regular season in the distant past and the pixels spilled previewing the series looking brilliant or boneheaded with each passing shift, the Caps and Isles got their first-round series underway on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Unfortunately, no one told the Caps.

New York jumped on Washington early and often and broke the game open with a pair of second-period tallies en route to a 4-1 Game One victory. We knew it would be tough for the Caps to shut New York down; we expected they could keep up with them better than they did in the series opener.

Here's Wednesday night's Plus/Minus:

  • Plus: It's only one game, and the first one at that. Yeah, that's all I've got.
  • Minus: Pretty much everything. But we'll narrow it down to the defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen. Through two periods, the pair had been on the ice for all three Islanders goals and were every bit as terrible as that might imply - Niskanen was a woeful minus-13 in on-ice shot attempts (24% Corsi-For) and Alzner was only a tick better at -11 (28%). The pair was pretty good down the stretch this season, but as we said yesterday, if one of the Caps' top-two pairs gets slaughtered out there, it's going to be awfully tough for the team to overcome. It was too much on Wednesday night.

And now, this...

Not so great, actually.

More notes on the game:

  • After a few minutes of feeling each other out, the Isles opened the scoring after a bad turnover in the neutral zone by Troy Brouwer led to a Brock Nelson rush and subsequent blast past Braden Holtby (we told you to watch Nelson). If the Caps are going to be that careless with the puck, this series won't be a long one, but if Holtby is going to let those in, it won't much matter what the skaters in front of him do.
  • Much of the rest of the opening frame was more of the same - sloppy play by the Caps (they were credited with seven giveaways in the period and the Isles had nary a one, and as dubious as that stat is, the eye test corroborated it this time around). Then, with just under a minute to go in the first, Brooks Laich outworked Jaroslav Halak and then Nick Leddy on the end-boards following a dump in and put a pass out front which Marcus Johansson snapped past Halak from a bit of an angle. One-one after one, despite New York holding a sizable edge in shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances.
  • Back to the Johansson goal, early on Curtis Glencross took a shot on Halak from a severe angle that gave the netminder some trouble. This isn't 2010's Jaroslav Halak - the Caps need to shoot from everywhere, because Halak's plenty beatable and has struggled with rebound control at times. Shoot. More.
  • The Caps won 19 of the game's first 28 face-offs, but it was the 29th that burned them, as John Tavares won an offensive-zone draw against Michael Latta (who had been five-for-five in the dot up to that point) back to Ryan Strome who wired an Ovechkin-like shot past Holtby (we told you to watch Strome). But what makes the goal all the more frustrating is that the draw to Holtby's right was the result of an unnecessary icing - the Caps had time and space, but couldn't execute a should-be-simple breakout and the rest was history. Two-one Isles.
  • Midway through the period the Caps had one of those goat-rodeo-in-their-own-zone shifts (including some vintage Alex Ovechkin "defense") that ended when Josh Bailey was able to deposit a loose puck behind Holtby (we told you to watch Bailey). The score pushed the shot counter to 17-12 and the overall shot attempt tally to 38-19. Caps ain't gonna win many of those games.
  • The Caps have been very good all season when down two goals - well beyond "expected" score effects - and they had some bounce-back in this one. Then, at the buzzer to end the second period, Jason Chimera took a roughing penalty. Remember when Barry Trotz benched Chimera for a terrible penalty earlier in the season and it got Andre Burakovsky back in the lineup? Obviously Burakovsky is behind Tom Wilson (whom the Caps missed tonight) on the depth chart, but either would be an upgrade over Chimera right now and now Trotz has a great reason to make that switch, on the off chance he was looking for one.
  • Despite a third-period power-play opportunity that yielded a couple of decent chances, the Caps couldn't close the gap and that was that. The Isles, to their credit, kept the pressure on while up two goals rather than going into a defensive shell. Washington could learn from that example.
  • Verizon Center's ice looked to be awful. It didn't necessarily disadvantage the Caps - in fact, if it slows down the more-skilled team, that might well be the Isles. But when Tavares, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have trouble controlling pucks, the ice is an issue.
  • Nelson added an empty netter to push Niskanen to minus-four on the night. Bully on him.

The good news is that the Caps have several more chances to get right. The bad news is, they showed little reason to believe they can. This is a match-up that looked bad on paper and bad on the ice in Game One. It's time to see how good a coach Barry Trotz is, because the Caps need to make some adjustments, and fast.

Game highlights: