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New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals Game 2: TV, lineups, narratives

Things that could change, things to watch in Game 2.

Tonight the New York Islanders will try to build off their 4-1 (EN) Game 1 win over the Washington Capitals, while the Caps will hope to avoid a bad start turning into full-blown series angst.

The Isles were understandably pleased, and the Caps understandably peeved, with their respective performances in the opener, but how much bearing does that have on tonight?

Well, it depends. It always depends...

2015 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 1
Islanders @ Capitals
7 p.m. EDT | NBCSN, SN, TVA2, MSG+, CSN-DC |
[phone or internet or TV maybe] Center
Face of the Opposition:
Japers' Rink

The Orpik/Carlson pair was good against Tavares, the Niskanen/Alzner pair was good against no one.

It was one game, but talk about night-and-day experiences by the Capitals' top two pairings. Probably reasonable to expect Orpik/Carlson to do something like that, but the other pairing getting torched was a surprise.

And again, just one game. So what happens tonight? And will it influence Jack Capuano to use home ice in Game 3 to alter those matchups?

Of Depth and Stardom

Although apparently many more people picked the Capitals to win the series (note: This is news to me, but I keep hearing it), I would imagine more people would at least look at the lineups and deem the Islanders deeper. (Again though, since those picks were news to me, maybe this depth assumption is wrong too.)

Game 1 certainly had that feel. Simply on the scoreboard, Alex Ovechkin had chances -- and eight shots on goal -- but went scoreless. On the other side, the Islanders' star John Tavares had just the assist -- a significant primary one on a two-second faceoff play -- while the Isles depth picked up the slack and all four lines could claim solid if not stardom-worthy performances.

The Caps, meanwhile, tried to spread their stardom out on two lines between Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. This approach is not necessarily wise -- particularly at home with matchup control -- but it may continue.

'Just do that again' sounds great, but the Isles may have to adjust.

What happens when you play a nearly ideal road game in Game 1? You close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope you can repeat all that in Game 2. Sounds like the Islanders will have the exact same lineup.

Bounces, variance, luck, officiating, all that can't be counted on to repeat, however. And beyond those variables, there is what the Capitals will try to do differently.

(In the literal sense, that includes dressing the physical Tom Wilson in his return from injury, likely bumping bumping Michael Latta, who lost that faceoff to Tavares on Strome's goal.)

On one hand, that comes down to simply showing some life out there: Whatever the Capitals tried in Game 1, expect them to try it with more urgency in Game 2. But also, the Isles will be on the lookout for any adjustments they make (in case they work) and how they will have to counter them (if they work).

The goaltending in Game 1 wasn't that different.

I mean yes, the results were. But pinning the game outcome on the actual play -- "play" as in "he looked good" or "he looked bad" -- on the two goalie performances in Game 1 isn't really faithful.

  • Maybe Halak doesn't get burned on that Johansson shot and he ends up with a shutout.
  • Maybe he does get burned, and also Matt Martin doesn't block that open-netter, and one of those forays out of the net costs a goal.
  • Maybe that Bailey bouncer doesn't squeeze through Holtby.
  • Maybe Strome's laser-guided shot hits a skate, while Ovechkin's doesn't.

That's what I mean. Holtby stopped 23 of 26, while Halak stopped 24 of 25, so history will (rightly) tell us Halak was better. I fear(ed) Holtby and didn't expect that from him; he's evidently been battling an illness, which may have been a factor.

Regardless, "how they played" was as close as a coin flip and tells us little about what to expect in Game 2.

On the other hand...

The Islanders were in control of Game 1, but the score helped.

The Isles executed their gameplan convincingly, and looked good doing it. The third period, in particular, was beautifully done. But it's more comfortable doing that with house money -- i.e. more than a one-goal lead. They didn't shell, but they did trap while the Capitals tried to break out, because they could afford to. They had the 3-1 lead, and the Capitals weren't making headway.

In Game 2, if that first goal goes to the Caps, or if that Bailey bounce goes to the Caps and they're the ones with a margin, the story could easily reverse.

*  *  *

Chances are it should be the proverbial "long series." (I've never figured out where that threshold is, surely a sweep is short and a six- or seven-game series is "long," but what of a five-gamer? Does it depend on how close each game was? Whatever, by any definition, most series are long!)

Regardless, if it's not "long," chances are that will be as much down to one team getting both better luck and better execution, rather than one or the other just not showing up. These teams played four close ones during the regular season, and ultimately (on the scoreboard) a close one in Game 1.

After their Game 1 performance, any form of loss by the Caps will have their fans up in arms, but no way they come out as flat for two playoff games in a row. If they lose again, it's just hockey.

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