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Washington Capitals 2*, New York Islanders 1 (*SO): Tight contest between playoff chasers

The Islanders ran into Braden Holtby and some finally poor shootout luck to claim only one point in D.C.

A glimpse of Okposo's new role.
A glimpse of Okposo's new role.

Alex Ovechkin roofed his backhand shelf, and Frans Nielsen never attempted his.

That and Braden Holtby's goaltending was the difference and the source for the magical third standings point in a tightly contested game that finished 1-1 in regulation, was fairly uneventful in overtime, and ended in a shootout victory for the Capitals after Ovechkin finished the only conversion out of six total attempts by both teams.

The Islanders continued a recent and noticeable shift in their shot differential by outshooting the Caps 36-22 overall as they chased the equalizer for the better part of two periods.

GS | ES | Faceoffs | PBP | TOI (WAS) | TOI (NYI) | H2H | Shift Chart | Recaps: | Isles | Japers' Rink | Post-game Quotes from Both Teams

The Capitals opened scoring very late in the first period, and for a long, long while it looked like it would be the only goal needed in this game. A mixed line change by the Isles, a great move by Nicklas Backstrom to help set up Mike Green (with a missed opportunity to clear by Casey Cizikas -- and a sort of legit Marcus Johansson assist -- in between) led to Green's changeup goal with just 13 seconds remaining in that frame.

That frame was careful, and tight -- just five shots on goal for each team. But the Isles spent the rest of the game pushing and pushing for the tying goal, outshooting the Capitals 28-16 in the second and third periods.

Is this a different Islanders team? I don't know, but their comeback attempts were rewarded on a beautiful spread-out triangle play by Josh Bailey (pass from the corner) to Frans Nielsen (touch pass from the slot) to Kyle Okposo (low on the left wing side) to tie the game at 1-1 with just a hair under five minutes remaining in regulation.

That equalizer came after a great shift by the Keith Aucoin line with Michael Grabner and Colin McDonald, who hemmed the Capitals in and then let the NOB line get the tying glory on their next rush into the Capitals zone.

Unfortunately, for the first time this season shootout luck was fully not on the Islanders' side: Though Evgeni Nabokov stopped two of the Capitals' three attempts (Ovechkin nicely roofing his backhand deke), the Islanders shooters came up empty. Nielsen went with his alternative forehand five-hole shot, but got it up too high. Brad Boyes had Braden Holtby beat with a strong forehand deke, but he lost the handle on the puck and the puck squeaked harmlessly into the corner. John Tavares was their last hope, but his moves went too deep and with too little deception, so Holtby comfortably kept his forehand try from making a dent.

Game Highlights
Game Notes
  • Marty Reasoner was back in the lineup, ostensibly for his faceoff and penalty kill skills, but he ended up 2-5 on faceoffs. Fellow faceoff expert Keith Aucoin was only 2-6. But continuing to develop this skill? Kyle Okposo, who was 6-1 on the draws. (While we're here, even Frans Nielsen, not known for draws, was at least 5-7.)
  • On that note, I'm not one to pile on Marty Reasoner this season (disclosure: I fully supported his signing last season, but he had a bad year), because he's beenfine in his intended role as a defensive center/faceoff guy this season.Nonetheless, even given that, I wouldn't put him out in 4-on-4 OT, even if it was for a defensive zone faceoff. That seemed to be a good example of how careful both teams were with the third standings point up for grabs.
  • I don't exactly forgive Okposo for his slow start, but I am over it: He and his line have been good, quite good, lately, and his faceoffs and forechecking have been big parts of that.
  • Funny moment: It was a weak, harmless send to the net, but Nabokov still had to be alert to bail out Hickey when he deflected an OT volley up into Nabby's glove.
  • It was a pretty calculated OT overall. Both teams knew they needed that second point ... so both teams were only cautiously aggressive. No matter what incentive gimmicks the NHL installs, ultimately teams are still going to be careful when their seasons are on the line. Despite some pretty play (and frankly some nice work by Kyle Okposo), there were no real threats in overtime by either side.
  • Not game-related, but a glimpse of Newsday's sidebar, on Mark Streit: Streit still very much wants to remain an Islander beyond this season, even though the stalemate between his agent and Snow wouldn't seem to be closing anytime soon. [...] "I'm done talking about that and thinking about that,'' Streit said. "We need everyone here thinking about playing well and helping the team, myself included. We'll see after the season what happens..."
Post-Game Quotes

via Japers':

New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano on how the game progressed tonight...

"We know the importance of these games. I think after the first couple periods we didn't get as much traffic and shots that we wanted to get, neither team did in the first [period], but in the second [period], I thought we came out, we came out hard. I thought both goaltenders on both sides played a terrific game."

New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano on getting a point in a tough road game...

"Huge, I didn't think we were going to get one by [Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby]. We had at least 12 to 16 shots during the third period. We'll take the point, it's on the road, tough building to play in against a real good hockey team so yeah, we'd like to get the two [points] but one is better than none. But I liked the effort from the guys tonight."

New York Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on how his team was able to get a point tonight...

"I thought we showed character. We played our system [and] we played well, we sacrificed the body, and that's how it's going to be for the rest of the season. We have to just get the point, get rest, and be ready for the next game."

* * *

So in a game that looked like it wouldn't be their night -- try and try, so many shots denied by Holtby -- it was nice to see the Islanders keep up the pressure until Okposo finally tied it. We know on this treacherous journey to grab their first playoff spot since 2007, there will be ups and downs and tough results even when they play well.

Tonight, at least they got a regulation point.

Standings Implications

Oh, and about that: Thanks to the NHL's "The People Demand a Winner" shootout regime, the Islanders gain a crucial point that jumps them back into seventh place int he Eastern Conference with 40 points (though important teams have a game or two in hand). That's also in part thanks to the Devils losing in Boston, where Jaromir Jagr got credit for the only goal of the game, though it was a fortunate bounce off his skate.

Since the Caps got the extra point and the Canadiens did their job and dispatched of Winnipeg, Washington swaps spots with the Jets and vaults all the way into the Southeast lead and {cough} the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

"Southleast" complaints aside, that dynamic makes this one helluva playoff race. For the Islanders, it continues Saturday night vs. the Lightning -- who beat the Canes with Ben Bishop earning a shutout in his debut.

Even on the nights that end wrongly, this is getting kind of fun.