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Islanders 2, Capitals 0: First Place? First Place

I’m speechless, friends.

NHL: New York Islanders at Washington Capitals
Now this is one hell of a still.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, I have to apologize for the delay in this recap. I’ve sat here typing rather intermittently, not really knowing how to begin this one. Of course, I try to take notes along with the game, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV this time. Didn’t help that there weren’t any goals through forty minutes either, but it still held my full attention and the tension just continued to mount.

I had an eerie feeling that the Capitals might swipe it away on a fluke in the third, but the Islanders really took it to Washington throughout the game and the bounces went their way tonight to boot.

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

Flying Out of the Gate and a Sweet Tribute for the Coaches

A game like this, an important one for standings positions and emotional satisfaction, can be a bit intimidating for many teams. Including, arguably, many recent Islanders teams. But this team starts off with breakaway for a fourth liner that earns a power play ten seconds in.

The power play was, as can be expected, not very good. But the Isles used the opportunity to kickstart some good, old-fashioned domination. And during the first “commercial break,” the broadcast chose to instead play the tribute video for Barry Trotz and kind thoughts for Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn that the Capitals organized, which was a nice gesture as well. The video nearly brought the now-Islanders coach to tears.

Goalie Duel Through Two Periods

Well, not entirely. A coaching duel as well, with very few shots on goal for either team playing similar systems. Another fast moving period with no goals, the Islanders and Capitals created varying amounts of zone time, but by the time the game had ended, New York had a firm grasp of the high-danger chances battle, which must have additionally pleased Trotz.

Consequently, Braden Holtby had to be on top of his game, and he was. He blocked Cizikas’ breakaway chance early in the game, and Brock Nelson’s in the closing seconds of the second.

But Thomas Greiss proved to be the superior goalie tonight. The Capitals still have one of the most potent power plays in the NHL, and he was there to stop a single puck from crossing the goal line.

Finally Breaking the Seal

As the Isles held serve in the third, they were able to end the scoreless tie. Mat Barzal carried the puck around the Washington zone and worked himself out to the point, where he snapped a shot toward Holtby. Josh Bailey, parked in front of him, jumped over the puck and got his stick on it to angle it over Holtby’s shoulder.

And only a couple minutes later, the Capitals allowed Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin to skate in on a 2-on-goalie. Clutterbuck carried over the blueline and waited until he drew Holtby out enough to snipe it off the far crossbar and in. From there, they played the Trotz Game and worked the time off the clock, holding the Capitals to 4 shots on goal through the third. Defenseman Adam Pelech, who has looked better in the last few games, had two assists.

The Islanders won their 14th game in 17 tries, including 4 in a row, and their 6th in a row on the road. Also, they’re now 7-0-0 in the second half of a back-to-back.

First Place

It’s only January, and anything could happen from here on out. Nothing is guaranteed. But if you told me in September that the Islanders would be leading the Metropolitan Division past the halfway mark, I would have had to laugh. It didn’t seem possible. A look at the roster, the forwards especially, was fearsome. It had the potential to be really ugly.

But Barry Trotz has been a revelation for a team comprised of above-average hockey players with a few gems mixed in - with another coach, they might not even be challenging for a playoff spot. Yet here they are, with the coach that just won the Stanley Cup, on top of the same division his former team won three times in a row while he was there - after everyone, including us, said they’d be hoping to win the Draft Lottery in April. Enjoy it, Isles fans. We deserve it.

What’s Next

The Islanders play the Ducks at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, right when the NFC Championship starts, and then they’re in Chicago to finish up the season series with the Blackhawks at 8:30 on Tuesday before heading into the All-Star Break and their bye week.