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Capitals 4 (EN), Islanders 1: Special teams loss

A careful, competitive battle at even strength turns on the Isles’ inability to cash in on the power play.

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders
You’re supposed to make him work.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

When the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals faced each other for the first time since Barry Trotz leapt from the latter to the former just a couple weeks after leading them to the Stanley Cup, what would it be? A Trotz-fest, of course.

The teams played a “heavy,” territorial game, with disciplined defense and careful placement of pucks in safe spaces throughout the night. The Isles showed they can play with the defending Cup champs, in a more controlled, cohesive way than any of the nerve-wracking barnburners of the Capuano-Weight era.

The difference? The Isles, once again, fell short on the special teams ledger. Not only was their power play — save for their first attempt — bad, it was in one sense a net negative. It burned clock and stopped what was otherwise a flowing game where the Isles continued to build a stronger share of even strength play.

And, of course, the PP units didn’t score. So a close 2-1 game bled to 3-1 on a late Capitals power play goal, then a 4-1 final with the help of an empty netter.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Corsica | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period: Early Exchange of Pawns

The Dashing Valtteri Filppula, as he seems to do just about every third game now, opened scoring early with a wicked backhand from the high slot after some good forechecking by his line. Ryan Pulock — who would finish with six shots on goal himself — intercepted a botched Caps clear at the blueline and fed Filppula at the top of the left-wing faceoff circle, where he glided a moment into the slot before lifting it high gloveside just 36 seconds into the game.

The Isles were off to a feel-good start, though that only lasted a couple of minutes.

Tom “I’m the real victim here” Wilson equalized soon after, on a five-hole shot from faceoff circle range that Thomas Greiss would want back. Using #WilsonMath, he of the “I’ve had like just two head incidents” computation, his tally would be worth only about two-tenths of a goal. But since the NHL strictly scores in whole numbers, it tied the score at 1-1.

The second half of the period was marked by about an eight-minute stretch where there was no stoppage in play — not that it was high-flying, rather just rush, dump/careful shot, strategic change, repeat. Things ended 1-1, with neither team getting a power play. (Foreshadowing alert!)

Second Period: Decline the Power Plays, Please

The Isles started the second period off very well, and even recorded the first eight shots on goal. They were mounting pressure and forcing some penalties from the Caps...

...which is where the problems began. Outside of their first opportunity, which created a few close calls and sustained possession, the power play was terrible and frankly sucked away any momentum they had from the good start to the period. A typical example: Filppula would make a good smart play to draw the third power play of the period with a cut to the net on Dmitri Orlov, then the PP unit would squander it.

That, of course, came after Nic Dowd gave the Caps a 2-1 lead with a shot over Greiss’ shoulder, after a sloppy line change between the Isles’ second and third power plays.

Not only did they stop getting shots on goal during the power play, they just about stopped getting shots toward the net at all. Officially, shots finished 10-3 for the Isles in the period.

Third Period: No But Really, Special Teams

Four minutes into the final frame, the Isles were afforded yet another power play to completely waste midway through the third when Wilson decided to get cute with a reverse hit interference against Thomas Hickey in the slot.

But once again, the Isles power play was completely passive and s-l-o-w, both for the few moments they were in the offensive zone and in every other location on the ice where they could’ve gained possession and carried with some speed or urgency.

In contrast, they started to build more and more chances at even strength as the period went on. Pulock (walking in off a Brock Nelson faceoff win) and Cal Clutterbuck, trying to pick a high corner from the slot) in particular had great looks. The Isles were outshooting the Capitals 11-3 in the third period until Tanner Fritz and then Hickey took penalties in quick succession to create a 5-on-3 with less than eight minutes remaining.

That set up the knockout punch. Though they killed off the bulk of the 5-on-3 — with some help from Greiss stopping some Alex Ovechkin one-timers — the Capitals called a timeout and initiated a good give-and-go for Wilson to cash in at 5-on-4. His second goal made it 3-1 with 5:39 remaining.

Ovechkin would add an empty-netter late to make the final score.

Lineup Notes

  • With Casey Cizikas still out, Tanner Fritz again looked more useful in the fourth line pivot than Stephen Gionta was. That string of power plays in the second period kept them off the ice for a long stretch, but they served their role when out there. Fritz’s penalty hurt though.
  • Speaking of which, Matt Martin came off IR earlier in the day and was his usual physical self. We’ll see how the body feels after its first test since the injury.

Trotz on the Game

From the post-game:

“I didn’t like our first [period]. Thought we were a little tentative, showed them too much respect. ... I really liked our second. Created chances, forced penalties, just didn’t convert — obviously we’ve gotta continue to work on that. In the third I thought we had a push, but then they hit us on the power play.”

“This is four games in six nights for us. It’s still travel — I don’t care what anyone says, it still wears — and I don’t think we had the same juice as [the last two games].”

Trotz, Korn, Lambert Get Their Rings

Classy talk from the Isles coach to his former charges:

Up Next

The Isles are in Boston Thursday night.