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Capitals vs Islanders Game 4: What Worked and What Didn't

Heading into Game 5, we take a look at what worked and what didn't in the fourth installment.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After what seemed like an on-again off-again pattern of dominance between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, Game 4 saw the series' first game with a possession delta that was smaller than 3%. Layman's translation: the game was played evenly, especially relative to the earlier games in this series. Ultimately, it was stellar work on the penalty kill unit, and production from the Caps top, uh, producers, that helped 'em put home ice back where it started.

Here's a look at what worked in Game 1, Game 2, and in Game 3... and now, let's look back at Game 4.

What Worked

  • Braden Holtby

Let's start with the obvious. After what can generously be characterized as a shaky start in Game 1, we told you that Braden Holtby almost always returns to form in games following his mediocre (or worse) starts. In Games 3 and 4, Braden Holtby has stopped 76 of 79 shots for a cool .962 save percentage.

There's not much to break down about Holtby's game. The Islanders are pelting him with shots, and he's been up to the task, looking every bit the steadfast backstop that Caps got all regular season. The Caps have been pretty capricious in front of him, but Holtby's done all you can ask for in each of the last two games: he's given them a chance to win, and that was good enough to bring home ice back to the Phone Booth.

  • Power versus Power
One game after John Tavares and his linemates absolutely trampled the Capitals at even strength, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Joel Ward returned serve— and they did so in a game where they Caps were on the whole out-possessed.
And they did it against John Tavares, Ryan Strome, and Nikolay Kulemin. Using Ovechkin as a proxy for the top line, let's take a look at that matchup.

Player TOI CF CA CF% vs Ovechkin CF% away from Ovechkin
John Taveres 13:32 10 17 37.04 66.67
Ryan Strome 11:55 8 15 34.78 62.5
Nikolay Kulemin 10:40 5 13 27.78 61.54

And because it's beautiful, let's visualize it.

All of this dominance culminated, of course, in Backstrom's overtime game winner. More than solid outing from the Caps' big guns.
  • The Penalty Kill
Killing off four straight minors was absolutely huge. Obviously. Despite being loaded with talent, the Islanders power play hasn't been a particularly cohesive unit. They were only 16th in the League in conversion rate, and they generate considerably fewer shot attempts than most, though they do a great job getting those attempts on net.

On their four power plays, the Islanders pushed 16 pucks towards Holtby. Six of those were blocked. Two missed the mark. Braden Holtby gobbled up the other eight, and the Caps collectively managed to survive yet another playoff game in which they were distinctly disadvantaged by penalties.

  • Tom Wilson

Let's talk for a moment about the guy responsible for two of those penalties. If Tom Wilson is there to impose a physical presence, he's passing with flying colors. In hindsight, Wilson's minors being successfully killed off, it's easy to say that his game— a sample of the often-talked about "heavy game"— is playing a part as the series goes on. If the Isles defenders weren't bracing for him before, they sure as hell are after his earthshaking crunch on Lubomir Visnovsky— a clean hit, penalized for optics more than anything else.

In addition, Kyle Okposo's postgame comments about Wilson evince that Wilson's found his way under their skin. Combine that with Wilson's ability to draw penalties (he drew them at nearly double the rate as the Caps next best, Alex Ovechkin), and the Caps notable lack of power play opportunities, Wilson is primed to continue making a difference.
  • The Islanders Breaking Their Sticks
This has got to be the strangest quirk of the series through three games. The Islanders' sticks appear to be constructed from a material with the strength and flexibility of kindling, and it's now cost them three goals and, arguably, two games.

But it's not just luck, though that's certainly a part of it. As we touched on after Game 2, the Caps' patience is key in these situations, breaking down and maneuvering the Isles' D at will. Last night's game winner, with a stickless John Tavares trying to defend Nick Backstrom, had a bit of a different look, though no less beautiful for that.

After an Alex Ovechkin wrists shot broke John Tavares's stick right off an overtime draw the Caps' top pivot recognized the situation immediately, and used his patented butt thrust to get from the bottom of the zone up towards the top, Tavares draped all over him. With Tavares having virtually no reach, Backstrom was able to swivel towards the middle of the ice and let a wrister rip that almost certainly would have been deflected away if Tavares had a stick. More awareness and opportunism on the part of Backstrom, more bad luck for the Islanders, and it culminates in a huge win.

What Didn't Work
  • Secondary Scoring
For the second game in a row, the Caps didn't generate a goal without Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the ice. That's no recipe for success, even though you love seeing the big guns firing away.

Joel Ward was on the ice for 14 Caps' shots last night. His linemates, Backstrom and Ovechkin, were both on for 13. The next forwards on that list? Jay Beagle, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, and Andre Burakovsky, who were all on for 5 shots each.

If that grouping of forwards can step it up, and maybe turn on a few more red lamps, it'll go a long way in easing the burden on Braden Holtby and the Caps' top trio.
  • Defending the Isle's 4th Line
For all the incessant utterances of "The NHL's Best 4th Line" seeming a bit like narrative hooey, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Casey Cizikas have been taking it to the Caps all series, and yesterday was no exception.

Casey Cizikas of course scored the Isles only goal, but the Caps were lucky that's all the damage that trio did. All three skaters finished with a better than 66% CF, and basically rendered the Caps's third and fourth lines useless all night.

They also skated a lot, each of them compiling more than 15 minutes of even strength TOI (okay, Cizikas was at 14:59), which is a ton for supposed bottom liners. No matter how effective they are in those minutes, you don't mind them cutting into the ice share of the Islanders' bigger scoring threats.