New York Islanders Gameday: The no-longer-struggling Washington Capitals

If there must be black, may it be beautiful. - Bruce Bennett

The Islanders didn't get to see the Flyers during their worst struggles, and they won't be enjoying the Capitals' lowest moments either.

That's how the cookie crumbles: We watched traditional Eastern Conference powers Philadelphia and Washington stumble out of the gate this season but never appear on the Islanders schedule during that time.

The Flyers momentarily awoke in a big way, crushing the Islanders in a historic home loss where the home team didn't bother to appear for arraignment. Now comes the first meeting with the Capitals, who are 7-3 in their last 10.

Was-hingtonslim_medium Nyi-landthin_medium
Capitals (10-11-1, 12th/E) @ Islanders (10-11-3, 10th/E)
1 p.m. EST | MSG+ | Audio:
NHL - WRHU
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
Capital Hunches of Oates:
Japers' Rink

It has not all been Southeast cooking, either, though they have shutout Winnipeg and Carolina and curb-stomped Florida twice during this run. It also includes a split with New Jersey and victories over the Flyers and Bruins.

That puts the Caps only two points behind the Isles, with two games in hand, and a plus-three goal differential that the Isles can only envy. The suspicion from far away is that new coach Adam Oates is starting to get what he wants out of this team, less than two months after his first training camp with the squad.

Here's one curious bit about Oates' approach, via Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts:

Had a terrific conversation with Oates last week about his dislike for players lining up on their off-wing. He is 100 per cent against it and explains why with an MLB analogy. "You look back through the history of baseball and every shortstop throws right. Why?" "Because it's too hard to make the throw left-handed," is the reply. "Right," he says. "How many plays won't be made because a left-handed shortstop isn't able to turn, get set and make the throw with strength or speed?" He believes the same theory applies to a winger on the wrong side.

[Friedman then embeds a highlight of Alex Burrows' 11-second overtime winner in Game 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, followed by...]

Watch Andrew Ference off the draw. "He takes two steps, is closed off and has no play," Oates said. He then pointed out something very interesting. Look at Boston's roster now: four left-shooting wings. Four right-shooting wings. Two right-shooting centres. Two left-shooting centres. Three right-shot defencemen. Three left-shot defencemen. (It's true, you can look it up.) That's going to be the blueprint in Washington.

So that's apparently one reason Roman Hamrlik found Oates' philosophy a rocky place where his seed could find no purchase. And it better explains the wing switch for Alex Ovechkin. It also tells us there would be no place for off-handed Lubomir Visnovsky in Oates' world.

Speaking of Ovechkin, an unsettling observation at Japers' Rink (item 3):

After going the first ten games of the season without a multi-point game, Alex Ovechkin now has four in his last twelve (including two games with at least three points) and has put up ten points in his last six games. The result? He sits perched on the edge of a very big milestone, just one shy of the 700 point mark.

For visiting Caps fans curious about Keith Aucoin: He started the season off well, generating some points, but he hasn't appeared in a game since Feb. 24, and he'd been moved from center to wing to make room for Casey Cizikas. These days David Ullstrom has been scratched so often you half-expect Aucoin to appear next in his place, but Aucoin hasn't appeared to be a natural fit at wing.

Also geared more toward visiting Caps fans, a mini-scouting report I filed for local Caps media properties as part of a partnership with SB Nation [prettier version here on Caps' Monumental Network]:


Islanders Notes

The Islanders enter the second half of their season with playoff aspirations still well alive, which is a small victory in itself. We know it's not lip service, and they've been competitive most nights. Now, to put meat behind the professions of faith.

They'll have to do it without assistant coach Brent Thompson, who was suspended two games by the NHL for comments directed at the officials after the three-powerplays-to-none loss to the Rangers Thursday night. Must've had one acid tongue do draw a rebuke the NHL rarely hands out.

Old Ovechkin shadow Radek Martinek is back with the team, but it's no longer in the prominent role he had back when he would see plenty of Ovi time in these meetings. These days it's Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald drawing those duties. But if Martinek plays, does he draw a specific role, for old time's sake?

It wasn't clear yesterday whether Lubomir Visnovsky would be back in the lineup, though it was expected. [UPDATE: He'll be warming up, along with Joe Finley. Gametime decision.] Meanwhile, in overseas reporting, it appears Lubo is the latest player to discover, in a tradition that goes back to Al Arbour, that joining the Islanders does not mean getting stuck "in the big city." Translation is rough, but "countryside" living (if you have the income) rings true.

This is the first of a back-to-back, with the second leg being a tough road game Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Best get these points while they're there for the taking.

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