Recapping this game is a nightmare because it started off wacky to begin with - two phantom penalty calls, one to make up the other, and it ended with the Isles up 2-1 thanks to Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas. The Islanders played probably their best period of the season in the second, dominating the Capitals and leaving with a 4-1 lead thanks to a Jordan Eberle power play goal and a goal from Devon Toews (where he mimicked Evgeny Kuznetsov’s eagle celebration in what seemed to be the icing on top of a sure Isles win.)
And then... the third period. We knew the Capitals would come out strong, but a total collapse from the team is just unacceptable. Sloppy play in the Isles’ own end, plus turnovers, plus a general lack of urgency led to the Islanders failing to get a single point against a division rival yet again, for the second game in a row.
Before the Collapse
Jordan Eberle was called early in the first for “tripping” after a Caps player fell down in the general vicinity of Eberle. It was a bad call, 100%, and it seemed like the refs knew it because they called Alex Ovechkin for “hooking” Casey Cizikas on the penalty kill. Ovechkin scored shortly after that at 5 on 5, giving the Caps a 1-0 lead.
But Brock Nelson would tie the game just a few minutes later, after Josh Bailey made a good pinch to keep the puck in the Caps’ end. He got the puck to Anthony Beauvillier who found Nelson, who shot it right past Braden Holtby to tie the game. The Capitals challenged the play for offside on Nelson’s initial entry into the zone while he was being hounded by John Carlson. However, Nelson was deemed to be in control of the puck and therefore onside, confirming the call on the ice. Because of the unsuccessful challenge, the Isles were now on the power play as well.
They’d get a lengthy 5 on 3 opportunity as well, when Carl Hagelin was called for interference on Mathew Barzal. The Isles spent a lot of time setting up for something big on the two-man advantage, but never really made any attempt to really shoot the puck, and so the Isles never converted. However, Casey Cizikas would score at even strength, banking the puck off Radko Gudas and past Holtby to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead heading into the second.
In the second period, Tom Wilson hit Cizikas on what was a clean but hard hit that Matt Martin took exception to, and he and Gudas ended up going after each other, both getting roughing penalties and Martin getting an additional unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
The Isles killed off the extra penalty, and then Brendan Leipsic was called for interference on Noah Dobson. On this power play, Jordan Eberle’s pass through the crease hit Holtby and went in, giving the Islanders their second power play goal in 26 attempts. Had Eberle’s pass not hit Holtby, it seemed like it was headed toward Brock Nelson, who was waiting for the tap in.
Leo Komarov took a penalty that the Islanders killed, and Nick Leddy took a weak slashing call when it looked like at first the play was blown down because the Caps had too many men on the ice. Nelson had a monster penalty kill shift, taking 30 seconds off the clock by himself while drawing four Caps into the corner of their own defensive zone. Ovechkin hit the post, and shortly after the penalty was killed, Devon Toews scored to give the Isles a 4-1 lead. Toews, seemingly mocking Evgeny Kuznetsov, copied his eagle celebration, which even with the unfortunate end to the game is still a highlight. It’s nice when the players look like they’re having fun and that they care, instead of the normal robotic garbage. And no, Toews’ copying Kuznetsov’s celebration is not why the Islanders lost this game. Maybe the Caps were annoyed by it, but they were also going to be pushing hard regardless, because this is their last game before the All-Star break.
Part of the Capitals pushing hard in the third also included Ovechkin’s increased ice time. Ovi clocked 23:19 total in the game, his highest TOI since he played almost 25 minutes nearly a month ago against Boston right before the Christmas break. That was an adjustment that the Isles definitely struggled with, however, it still doesn’t excuse what happened.
To start the third period, Braden Holtby was pulled for Ilya Samsonov, who did well to save Isles shots when they were pushing to put the game away. However, instead of locking down defensively, the Islanders collapsed, giving up a goal to Carl Hagelin early in the third. The puck deflected off a Johnny Boychuk breakup attempt to Richard Panik, who passed it to Hagelin who scored.
Then, Anders Lee failed to get the puck in deep, turning it over at the blue line which lead to Ovechkin driving to the net and scoring off Ryan Pulock’s skate. The Islanders failing to clear the zone led to a Tom Wilson goal, and Josh Bailey flubbing on a clearing pass lead to a giveaway and Jakub Vrana’s game winning goal. Ovechkin then scored in the empty net to get his hat trick and seal the game for the Capitals.
It’s simply inexcusable for the team to collapse like this, going from what felt like the worst loss of the season against the Rangers to an even more terrible loss today. The Islanders have been playing NHL .500 hockey lately, and it’s clear that there needs to be a personnel move. It can’t wait until the trade deadline.
Anyway, we get to watch more fun Islander hockey tomorrow, as the Isles head to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Another division rival, and a desperate need for two points.