The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division from 2018-19 faced off to open the New York Islanders’ 2019-20 season, and the order of superiority did not change. The Washington Capitals kept the Isles contained all night and took advantage of a late second-period power play goal to spoil the Islanders home opener, 2-1.
[NHL Gamecenter - Corsica - Natural Stat Trick - Hockey Viz]
First Period: Some goals ‘n stuff
The teams traded chances early, and goals in the only really active period.
Jakub Vrana scored the first goal against new Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, a shot from the circle off the keeper’s glove. It would be two goals allowed on 28 shots in his team debut.
Devon Toews tied it at 1-1 a couple of minutes later, on the wackiest season-opening goal in memory, using a brilliant bit of English to carom the ball into the corner pocket:
Islanders score a goal after it goes off the skates of FOUR Caps players. Absolutely incredible pic.twitter.com/YoRaiBySl5— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 4, 2019
Second Period: Whoever scores next is gonna win, aren’t they
In contrast to the back-and-forth opening frame, the Islanders did not let the Caps pressure Varlamov much in the second period, and had the slight better of play for most of it.
But registered karma offender Tom Wilson rang the post from distance early on, and Chandler Stephenson was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway after stripping Mathew Barzal at center ice. Somehow the Capitals’ first officially recorded shot on goal came well into the second half of the frame and was almost a goal: TJ Oshie’s shot from in tight trickled over the toe of Varlamov’s pad and wobbled by the post, where Oshie had a tantalizing second whack.
Turning point: With just over two minutes left, the Caps power play broke through on a broken rebound in the low slot, Oshie lunging to backhand slap a puck over Varlamov’s shoulder. That gave the Caps the 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
For the Islanders’ part, there was a crowd-raising chance for Casey Cizikas created by good forechecking from the fourth line and some good occasional looks from Barzal, but no conversions. Their lone power play logged two shots but no return.
Third Period: Correct
The Caps initiated Operation: Lockdown in the third. But the Islanders nearly got their second happy carom goal of the game eight minutes in when Barzal’s shot from the point deflected off the post. Anders Lee was perfectly positioned to put the rebound in, but it was batted away by one of those Caps d-men with the really long names.
That one came from a perimeter chance, symptomatic of their struggles to break through on the Caps throughout the third.
The Isles buzzed a bit with Varlamov pulled for a sixth attacker, with Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock paired for offensive quarterbacks at the point. But that was as close as they got: Frustrated in the home opener for a 2-1 regulation loss.
Basically, Barzal was the only one generating any threats in the period, a condition we’ll need to watch out for as the season goes on.
It’s hard to call things unacceptable in Game 1 but that third period effort comes pretty damn close.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) October 5, 2019
Final 5v5 Score-Adjusted via NST
Caps 62.07% Attempts
Caps 65.77% High Danger (8.78-4.57)
Caps 66.42% xG (2.24-1.13)
Caps over 75% in HDCF and xG in the third. pic.twitter.com/yhpS0shw7T
Barry Said It
“They were the better team in the third, plain and simple. They got on us, and we tried to slow things down a bit from the back end, and — they’re a good transition team — we made some poor decisions. ... [The Capitals] have playing really well, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. This was a good first test.”
-Trotz in the post-game
- Varlamov was just fine in his debut. Not required to make stellars saves, though looked good on the breakaway. A couple of posts helped keep it at two instead of four goals against.
- Barzal was of course lively and dominant, and only a few times looked to do too much — getting burned once. He also drew the Isles’ only power play.
- Brock Nelson had both Islanders penalties, and was part of a middle six that was meh.
- That said, Derick Brassard was alright in his Isles debut. Certainly defensively responsible, which will be a mandate for him as he replaces Valtteri Filppula.
- The chief forward penalty killers were Casey Cizikas, Leo Komarov and Cal Clutterbuck, of course, followed by Anthony Beauvillier, Brassard and Josh Bailey.
- Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock resumed their top-pair role, and did alright against the Caps’ top weapons, though there were a few oopsies and rust.
The Winnipeg Jets visit on Sunday, for a 7 p.m. start.