In a highly anticipated matchup, the Washington Capitals closed out a five game road trip against the New York Islanders. The Capitals sat atop the East Division and just two points behind them was New York. In a gritty hard fought game, the Islanders were able to put the lone goal on the scoreboard and jumped to equal footing with Washington. A couple weeks ago, they were in the running for one of the top NHL teams. Their performance on Tuesday night over Washington might have their name resurface as a dangerous threat in the East.
Each team’s goaltender was solid through the first period and after 20 minutes, there were still a pair of zeroes on the scoreboard. Washington’s penalty kill successfully defended their first shorthanded shift of the game, holding off the Islanders for two minutes. New York’s man advantage fired off three shots. The first forced a save out of #41 Vitek Vanecek, the second slipped past Vanecek but rang off the post and the third sailed wide of the net. Washington’s powerplay had an opportunity in the first period as well, but their attack was cut short as the period ended just 17 seconds into the penalty.
Both sides combined for 22 hits, with the Islanders holding a 12 – 10 advantage over the visitors. New York pushed around Washington and forced turnovers with an aggressive forecheck. After regaining the puck, the Isles attack consistently found mismatches on Washington’s doorstep, outshooting their opponents 12 to seven. Their offense created a lot of movement, tiring out the Capitals and essentially locking them in their defensive zone without allowing many line changes.
As the second frame started, the Capitals were on the power play. But despite the numbers advantage for 103 more seconds, the powerplay came up empty. Washington rifled off a pair of shots, but they were off target.
Back on even strength, #13 Mathew Barzal and #18 Anthony Beauvillier were able to routinely carve their way through the middle of the ice and find penetration into the Capitals defense. On the other side, when Washington was able to break out of their zone, they found success with quick tape to tape passing. This led to a few shots, but #40 Semyon Varlamov would come up with saves when called upon.
Washington had a second chance to score on the powerplay with 10:31 left in the second. Almost identically to the first try, the Islanders had little to no trouble staving off the attack, allowing just two shots from the Caps. It was evident that Washington struggled to get pucks on net throughout the first two periods. The shooters were tasked with trying to pick corners against a solid Varlamov. The Islanders goaltender came into the contest saving 91.9 percent of shots.
Headed into the third period, Vanecek and his posts were the only thing keeping the Capitals in the contest. Although still scoreless, Washington was able to even up the shot count at 19 but lacked significant opportunities. During the second intermission, when asked about the pressure New York was exerting through the middle of the ice, #73 Conor Sheary responded, “Our execution has to be a little bit better once we get it into the zone.”
Washington came out of the gate hot. Left winger #62 Carl Hagelin ripped a shot that caught Varlamov on his left shoulder for the Capitals’ best opportunity of the night up to that point. Back on the other end, Vanecek made a trio of saves from three different shooters.
The Islanders finally got the go ahead goal with just under seven minutes to go. Continuing with the pressure on the forecheck, New York kept the Capitals moving in their own zone and forced a turnover. Capitalizing on a rebound off Vanecek, #29 Brock Nelson caught the puck in stride and slipped it in between the legs of the goaltender. Nelson’s goal was his fourteenth on the season for his twenty third point.
The Islanders continued to pepper Vanecek throughout the remainder of the third period. Rattling off 20 shots in the final 20 minutes, seven of which came after the goal with 6:55 to go. Fortunately for the Capitals, Vanecek made save after save to try and keep his side in the contest.
Consequently, head coach Peter Laviolette gave the signal as Vanecek zipped to the bench. Washington put everything on the line to even the score. The Capitals seemed frantic as they tried to equalize. But an awkward offsides call combined with lackluster passing slowed their roll late into regulation. Consequently, Washington was unable to score and fell to the hosts.
Final Thoughts about the Capitals
The standout performer of the game for the Capitals was Vitek Vanecek by a wide margin. Making 38 saves, Vanecek was one of the only Capitals who were on their game. With a meeting at home against the Boston Bruins coming up on Thursday, the Capitals need to make some alterations. Generally speaking, the Caps were a step behind throughout the contest. There were some moments when they seemed on equal footing with the Islanders, but those quickly subsided.
After the game, #20 Lars Eller of Washington spoke to the media saying, “I’m not worried, I’m very well aware of how good this team is capable of being. These three games, losses on this road trip, we just have to learn from it…” There is plenty to improve on and this should serve as a wakeup call for Washington. As they gear up in preparation for the playoffs, they will need to be on their game more than ever.
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