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Capitals 3 (EN/OG), Islanders 1: Out of gas and ideas

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The Islanders look tired and unthreatening as Washington grabs a share of first place.

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders
A struggle
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals pulled back into a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-1 win at Nassau Coliseum Friday. As a result, the New York Islanders netted only two points from this week’s three games against top opponents.

If you feared a letdown game after the Islanders’ emotional win over their former captain on Thursday night, you have one theory for this loss. Though the opening period was well played by both sides, the Islanders listed badly over the final 40 minutes.

However, they also had a couple of lineup changes — Tom Kuhnhackl and Ross Johnston for Andrew Ladd (who was rested) and Matt Martin — and though one of those scored a goal, it was on a turnover rather than from the regular run of play.

Not like the Islanders traveled between games — both were at the Coliseum — but while fans were helping them blow the roof off the building Thursday, the Capitals were waiting on Long Island for their turn.

So as well as they played Thursday, hopefully that follow-up explains part of their missed connections and failure to sustain pressure on Friday. Because if it weren’t for Thomas Greiss, this one wouldn’t have been close.

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

First Period: Not quite as electric as Thursday

Nothing was going to duplicate the atmosphere of Thursday’s venge-fest against the Maple Leafs, but the first period lived up to a clash between two teams fighting for first place. The Capitals had a few more enticing chances, but each team threatened on multiple occasions while also playing some “heavy” and diligent defensive hockey.

The Islanders struck first blood, on an awful Dmitri Orlov pass half the length of the ice just 2:43 into the game. Coming off the bench, Tom Kuhnhackl read the play and cut Orlov’s pass off, then smartly nudged the puck over the blueline while not touching it himself to give forechecker Leo Komarov time to get back on side. Then Kuhnhackl finished with a sweet backhand upstairs.

The rest of the period could’ve gone either way, and it seemed like the rare mistakes like Orlov’s would determine the game. On that note, Mathew Barzal blocked a Capitals shot at the Isles blueline and sprinted ahead of the pack to give himself a breakaway. Instead of making it 2-0, he hit the crossbar and the Islanders would take their 1-0 lead into the first (and later second) intermission.

Scott Mayfield had also hit iron in the period, so if the gods decided to make this one of those nights in the Isles’ favor, they might have even created a 3-0 lead to Trotz the life out of the game.

Second Period: Move along

Alas, the luck was only going to come on the defensive side of the game, and only for so long.

In the second period, the Islanders only managed four shots and were lucky, but for the grace of Greiss and some friendly bounces, to get out of it without conceding a goal. Perhaps the Islanders were hitting a wall, energy-wise, but the Capitals were increasingly getting dangerous looks and the better of play.

Based on all the chances the Capitals were getting, it felt like it would have to be one of those nights where everything came up Greiss if the Islanders were to get out of this one with points. But through 40 minutes, they were getting the saves and the bounces to think maybe, just maybe...nah.

Third Period: Saw that coming

Sure enough, the thin 1-0 lead turned over quickly. Jakub Vrana scored on a deflection 3:26 into the third period.

Then Anders Lee was called for interference on a defensive zone faceoff, on a play that was a definite penalty — though Butch Goring disagreed — but was the kind of thing the officials had been letting go all night under the randomly applied “let ‘em play” philosophy.

It took only eight seconds for the Capitals to convert on the power play, though it came on a series of unfortunate bounces, the last of which was Johnny Boychuk’s stick, with the goal credited to Alex Ovechkin. In a 1:08 span and before the third period was five minutes old, the Caps had turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

Threatening to make things better before suddenly getting worse, Anthony Beauvillier had a chance and then was called for goalie interference after failing to dodge Braden Holtby. Orlov wasn’t penalized for several free shots in retaliation. That power play didn’t last but a few seconds, however, as John Carlson punched (high-stick) Casey Cizikas as he approached for a check in the Capitals zone.

So they played 4-on-4 for a while, with a nice chance for Brock Nelson set up by nifty Ryan Pulock work, but then Pulock took a tripping penalty as Ovechkin was about to break on the counterattack.

The ensuing sequence of 4-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-4 didn’t give the Caps much time to set up and burned a few more minutes off the clock.

Still, despite the tilted ice the Islanders remained just one good shot (or good bounce) away from tying the game and potentially getting a point or two. Yet they didn’t go long with Greiss pulled for a sixth attacker before all thoughts of stealing a point disappeared: A Josh Bailey back pass in the neutral zone became an own goal when Brock Nelson zigged instead of zagged.

As Eric Hornick noted, it was the first time in 30 games the Isles allowed three goals in a period.

Highlight

Pulock had a team-high 23-14 of ice time and again asserted himself offensively with some creative puckhandling and moves. He’s had a couple of good nights and I’m really liking the way he’s playing.

Up Next

Not much rest, but also no more excuses: The Flyers are at the Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.