Special teams stole the show tonight, as both the Washington Capitals and the host New York Islanders each scored two power play goals apiece, which accounted for four of the game’s five goals. However, it was the Islanders who scored last, an important distinction since this game went to overtime, giving the home team a 3-2 victory, two precious points, and sole control of first place in the Metropolitan division. The Caps, meanwhile, did salvage a point against the NHL’s hottest team and in front of an unusually hostile environment at Nassau Coliseum, but still find themselves mired in mediocrity, with 22 points in 21 games.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Islanders dominated the first five minutes of the game, and their hard work netted the game’s first tally, courtesy of Anders Lee. The story behind this goal was emblematic of what’s plagued the Caps this year (despite playing much improved team defense): a bad giveaway followed by a defensive breakdown leading to an easy goal. In what should have been an easy breakout, Braden Holtby’s pass to Brooks Orpik failed to connect, the Islanders pounced on the opportunity to keep it in the zone, and the flat-footed Caps were in no position to properly defend it. Result 1-0 Isles. (Note: This would be the only even strength tally of the evening.)
- The Caps made it through the first 10 minutes brutally outplayed, but only down 1-0. They settled down and re-tilted the ice back in their favor. Liam O’Brien drew a penalty, and Alex Ovechkin rocketed his tenth goal of the season on the ensuing power play. 1-1.
- But what Liam giveth, he taketh away. After O’Brien took a slashing penalty and headed to the box, it was Travis Hamonic who beat Braden Holtby on the power play and the lead was back to 2-1 for New York.
- The special teams fireworks would continue. While on their second power play of the night late in the second, Nicklas Backstrom sent a beautiful pass through the crease to Alex Ovechkin, whose sniper finish tied the game at two apiece. Folks, check the video highlights for that sequence if you haven’t seen it.
- After a scoreless, but riveting, third period in which the Islanders re-claimed territorial domination, the game headed to overtime, where a – you guessed it – power play goal, courtesy of John Tavares, ended the game with 24 seconds left.
- Many Caps fans will point to the Backstrom OT penalty (his second of the night, mind you) as a dubious one. The fact was that he did hold the opposition’s stick, and it resulted in the Caps gaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone. It wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer-you-must-call-it-penalty, but it wasn’t a phantom call either. He was certainly guilty of the infraction. Now one could argue that Backstrom was tripped/interfered with as well. There is definitely merit to that suggestion. And the delayed whistle didn’t help matters. However, on nights when the arena is rocking and home team is thoroughly outplaying the opponent, the home team is going to occasionally get lucky on a call. Unfortunately, for Caps fans, tonight was one of those nights.
- Some may not like the characterization of the Caps being “thoroughly outplayed” in a game they took to overtime. If you’re on the fence, let’s walk through some team stats: The Islanders won the shot battle at 56.5%, the Fenwick battle at 58.4%, and the Corsi battle at 61.7%. Those are digestible; what’s not digestible is this stat: the Islanders out-hit the Caps 55-28. The Caps may have salvaged a point and could have potentially stolen another one, but this isn’t a sustainable model for winning.
- Let’s give some praise to Braden Holtby. He stat line won’t necessarily show it (3 GA, 0.914 SV% and an “L”) but he kept the Caps in the game when the Isles were taking it to them. (That first goal, however, I’m sure he’d like to have back…)
- Jack Hillen played his first game since opening night. He skated 12:27 relatively quiet minutes. He had some out-of-sync moments, but it’s understandable since he hasn’t played since early October. Nonetheless, he had a rather event-less night, which is good for a 6D. And that right there is an advantage of having strong defensive depth this year, something lacking in previous seasons.
- So let me understand this: a formerly dynastic pro franchise from the 1980s that became a horribly run, do-nothing team for the past 20+ years can find its form and become competitive again? Hail to the Islanders! Bring some of that south please.
The old days of the Islanders being a push-over are done. The Islanders are a legitimate team with playmakers, speed, a little snarl, and upgraded defense and goaltending. Their fans are back into it and they’re in first place, 10 points ahead of the Caps in the Metropolitan division. The Caps will get another shot at them on Friday evening. They need to find a way to win, otherwise New York is going to open up sizable distance between the two teams in the standings race.