After consecutive games that took more than the allotted 60 minutes to decide, a flurry of contributions from Caps with less impressive jersey sales ensured that the Washington Capitals next trip to Long Island would feature a compelling opportunity: driving the final nail into the coffin lid on Nassau Coliseum's terminal season.
Here's a look at what worked in Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4... and now, let's look back at Game 5.
- The Second Line
If you thought slotting Jason Chimera with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson was going to be the ticket to getting the second line off the runway, congratulations, you were right (okay, we all know it was more about knocking Troy Brouwer down a rung, but still). This trio was out on the ice for two goals for and none against. They responded to Josh Bailey's opening goal, and then Kuznetsov drove home the dagger in the third period. And then Chimera twisted it.
Marcus Johansson picked up two assists. Chimera and Kuznetsov both added apples of their own in addition to their lamp-lighters. And these were only on the opportunities that went in, with this trio generating several other high-quality chances. All of this feeds into the next bullet...
- 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.- Me, two days ago
Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 points), Marcus Johansson (2 points), Jason Chimera (2 points), Karl Alzner (2 points) Troy Brouwer, Jay Beagle (2 points), Brooks Laich, Matt Niskanen, and Joel Ward.
Those are the names that populate the scoresheet on Thursday Night. Notice any names missing? That's right, no points from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It happens. When it happens, it's nice to a five-spot up on the board. That'll do, pig. That'll do.
- The Penalty Kill
Again, the penalty kill continues to be strong. Really strong. Like so far impenetrably strong. We've already given the penalty kill love in this series, but it's worth noting that the Isles continue getting the first power play of each game, and that hasn't been a factor at all (except in setting ablaze the frustration of Caps fans everywhere). Keep it up, PK unit...like forever.
- Actually Getting Pucks on Nets
Although the Capitals dominated this game by all means, it wasn't the possession-slaughtering they doled out in Game 2 (or were doled in Games 1 and 3). They only out-attempted the Islanders by a mark of 57 to 53 (51.8 CF%), though score-effects certainly played a part in that, and particularly after Jason Chimera twisted the knife.
They did however completely flatten the Isles in shots on goal, to the tune of 41-23, and 35-20 at 5v5. That's a 63 SF%. Pretty, pretty good.
Of the Caps 57 shot attempts, they missed the net with only 7. By comparison, the Isles missed 17 of the 53 they aimed towards Braden Holtby. We've already seen Alex Ovechkin bury a juicy Jaroslav Halak rebound in this series. In this one, he let Troy Brouwer dig a puck out from under him, which quickly ended up in the back of the net.
On Brooks Laich's goal, Halak first lazily played the puck, allowing Jay Beagle to win the puck, then kicked a Jason Chimera shot out into the slot, where Laich was able to pick it up and fire it into the net. Jason Chimera's goal had no real business being anywhere near the back of the net.
- Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson actually didn't have a great game. He had the second worst possession numbers on the team (his 21.05 CF% was undercut only by Michael Latta's 20%). He was only on the ice for two Caps' shots, and that's despite taking 80% of his draws on the offensive zone.
But Tom Wilson didn't need to have a great game. He made his mark on the series, and the Islanders' focus on him— and honestly, no one team should be focusing on a fourth liner in the Game 5 of a tied series— was a detriment to their success. Because honestly, letting your 25 goal/40 point man in Anders Lee stand in there and take repeated fists to the melon is no kind of vengeance (and the fact that it's Lee ringing that bell, while Cal Clutterbuck throws temper tantrums from his knees in embarrassing fits of petulance is a fine indicator on the actual distribution of mettle on that team).
And while Brooks Laich probably could have been more careful with his words during his controversial radio spot, his point was this: the Isles have to fill in that gap on their blue line now, and regardless of the circumstances that brought upon that necessity, it benefits the Caps. That's inarguable.
And Griffin Reinhardt— Lubomir Visnovsky's fill in— was on the ice for two goals in this one, in fewer than 13 minutes of even strength ice time.
What Didn't Work
- The Power Play
On the day that we brought attention to the rarity in which the Capitals receive more power play opportunities than their opponents once Spring roles 'round, the Capitals received more power plays than their opponent.
And didn't capitalize, putting them at a pretty ugly 1 for 10 for the series— and that one conversion was more the result of a stellar individual effort on the part of Nicklas Backstrom than any sort of cohesive unit striking as one.
One way to get this unit firing might be to keep Ovechkin and Backstrom out there a bit longer. The Capitals started the third period on the power play— legs fresh, whiteboards fresh in mind— but Barry Trotz still rotated his big guns off the ice, with 50 seconds or so left, once the Islanders successfully cleared the puck.
However it happens, if the Caps can get the NHL's best power play firing back anywhere near the level it was during the regular season, they're going to be a lot to handle.
- Failing to Score First
In an interview before the game, Matt Niskanen spoke to a pattern that had emerged through the series's first four game: The Islanders come out blazing, and the Caps take a little longer to get going. Nisky might've ghost written Cassandra Vablatsky's Unfogging the Future, because that trend played out again, with the Islanders opening the scoring for the fourth time in five games.
We don't need to tell you about the Capitals success when scoring the first goal— but maybe you didn't know the Islanders were the 6th worse team in the lead at finishing the job. Inversely, the Islanders are a top 5 when trailing first, and the Caps are a bottom 5 squad when allowing the first goal. Weird.
After Game 4, Jack Capuano changed his lineup— partly by necessity, partly in the spirit of a wayward chemist— while Barry Trotz kept things the same. And after two straight victories for Trotz's Capitals, one of which can be lightly characterized as a thorough whomping, that burden for change remains squarely on Capuano's shoulders.