I bet you really thought you could relax after the Islanders were jumping through the first half of the first period, completely outclassing the Capitals and scoring two goals - one from JG Pageau and one from Mathew Barzal. The shot attempts were insanely tilted in the Islanders’ favor, the forecheck was clicking, and then... it stopped. The Capitals took advantage of the Islanders stepping off the gas and taking stupid penalties, and goals from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin gave the Islanders their first loss of the series, and it was the first game where the Capitals looked like the threatening team we know they can be at their best.
Well, at least we’ll have the first ten minutes to look back on fondly. A great first shift from the Brock Nelson line and some strong forechecking led to him drawing a penalty on Brenden Dillon for tripping. The Islanders’ first power play of the game actually looked pretty good, getting some great opportunities and leading to more sustained pressure, which led to JG Pageau’s opening goal.
the deflection is just *chefs kiss* pic.twitter.com/SwCst4MChs— x-Isles on MSG Plus (@IslesMSGN) August 19, 2020
Just a few minutes later, Mat Barzal got the puck out of the zone, carried through the neutral zone but passed the puck off to Nick Leddy, who got the puck back to him, and he scored.
At 2-0, with shot attempts a whopping 16-1 for the Islanders, it seemed like the Caps had just rolled over and died, rather than coming out to play. Instead, it would become clear that going down two goals while playing for their season would be enough motivation for the Caps to find their game and bring their best against the Islanders.
Semyon Varlamov was huge this period, with a few good saves as the Capitals increased their pressure, including a fantastic one on Lars Eller where he quickly got across the crease to stop the shot.
The game also started to get chippy in the second half of the first, as Barzal and Garnet Hathaway got into it, leading Scott Mayfield to jump in, and Hathaway was called for a double minor to Mayfield’s regular minor penalty for roughing. Anthony Beauvillier rang the puck off the crossbar on the power play (oh what could have been). Later in the PP, Devon Toews failed to keep the puck in the zone, got caught flat-footed, and had to take a hooking call to stop a Tom Wilson breakaway. The Caps didn’t score on their man advantage.
At the end of the period, Alex Ovechkin was called for roughing after getting Casey Cizikas in a headlock in the neutral zone. It looked like retaliation to what Ovechkin thought was a trip, and despite the Capitals pushing back, there was still reason for optimism with Ovi in the box and a power play to start the second period.
Unfortunately, that optimism would soon be crushed as the Caps took over the game. A Barzal holding penalty cut the Isles power play short, and then Mayfield sent the puck out for a delay of game call that gifted the Capitals a lengthy 5 on 3. That 5 on 3 ended about a minute in, once TJ Oshie took a hooking penalty as Pageau tried to clear the puck.
On the 4 on 4, all of Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Casey Cizikas let Kuznetsov get to the crease basically unchallenged, and he got the puck past Varlamov in probably the only part of the game you could be a little bit annoyed at him for, too. He really was phenomenal during the game, but he lifted his pad rather than keeping it on the ice, which let the puck go in even though Kuznetsov had lost the handle somewhat.
Barzal took another penalty, which brought us to 4 on 3 play, and then back when it was a regular old 5 on 4 penalty, Alex Ovechkin got the puck and scored to tie the game, 2-2.
Tom Wilson was up to his old tricks too, kindly helping Scott Mayfield into the boards by hitting him in the numbers and looked to hurt Mayfield’s shoulder on the play, though Mayfield was back a few shifts later. The Islanders got another power play, and it was ineffective as we’ve come to expect. The Isles were hemmed in for the rest of the period, Pageau took a tripping call on Wilson, but they were able to kill the penalty.
There was also potential injury news, with this Radko Gudas hit knocking Cal Clutterbuck out of the game:
using your butt as a weapon >>> pic.twitter.com/9AiysmD2q1— NBCSports Washington (@NBCSWashington) August 19, 2020
To confirm that it was going to be one of those games, Anthony Beauvillier decided to pass the puck to Brock Nelson on a partial 3 on 2, despite there not being a clear lane and him having a better shooting opportunity, Nelson couldn’t get the pass after the puck hit the skate of the defenseman, Dmitry Orlov picked up the puck and then got it to Ovechkin, who took advantage of a poor decision to jump up on the play by Pelech to create a 2 on 1 where Toews wasn’t aggressive enough on Ovechkin, which led to him getting a clean shot on Varlamov, and there was no chance he wasn’t scoring from there. Just inexplicably dumb stuff from the Islanders.
The Isles went on the power play again when Dillon was called for high sticking Barzal. Despite drawing blood, it was only a two minute minor. The best look of the power play was a Josh Bailey shot that Holtby was able to save, and Ryan Pulock hit Anders Lee up high with a shot, but Lee was okay.
The Caps basically pulled the shut down gameplan out of our book, which shouldn’t be too surprising given their former coach. The Islanders pulled the goalie but never looked too dangerous, and dropped Game 4, 3-2.
- Clutterbuck didn’t return for the third period, so if he’s unable to play the next game, I wonder if Trotz will bring in Ross Johnston to counter the Caps’ more aggressive gameplan, or if he’ll bring back Tom Kuhnhackl on the third line and slide Leo Komarov down to the fourth line RW. I’m hesitant to say “bring in the goon” when for all but this game we’ve been playing really good hockey, but he might be a better fit on the fourth line. I’d really like Komarov to come out of the game entirely for Kuhnhackl, but Trotz unfortunately likes the “spit” Uncle Leo brings to the game (if by spit we mean standing around aimlessly in the defensive zone and turning over the puck, but I digress), so I don’t think that’ll happen.
- Despite us having our worst game of the series, we only gave up one 5v5 goal, and it was on a 2 on 1 from the kind of breakdown we don’t see normally from these guys.
- Our inability to score on the power play is, as it has been for years, the Achilles heel of this team. Can you even blame it on coaching at this point? We’ve had two different power play coaches with the same personnel, and neither of them could get this team to a power play that was even league average. We know this team doesn’t have a lot of elite game breaker players, but going 1 for 19 (5.26%!!!!) in the series is just unacceptable.
- I’m worried that extending the series means the return of Nicklas Backstrom, who will certainly create problems for the Islanders if he’s back. I’m wishing him well in recovering from his injury, but please Nick, take your time!
- One of the talking points going into this series was that neither team had won a home game since Trotz took over for the Islanders. Technically, the Islanders broke that streak in Game 3, winning as the home team, despite being in Toronto. But I wonder if part of the reason for the bad home record is because of last change, the only advantage that exists as being the “home” team. Trotz gets to choose his matchups when the Isles are the home team, and I wonder if he’s just choosing them poorly against a team he might know just a little too well. In the two “away” games, the Islanders scored four goals in each game, not including the empty netter in Game 2, while the Caps scored just 2 in each of those games. The Caps haven’t exploded offensively, scoring just 1 goal in Game 3 and the 3 in this game, though just one at 5v5, while our offense dried up to 2 goals a game. The matchups we seemed to get in the “away” games helped our top six and our depth, and this matchup seemed to only benefit the Barzal line offensively, while they struggled defensively. So here’s hoping the “away” game streak continues.
Next, it’s back on the “road” for Game 5 on Thursday. Stay out of the penalty box and stop being stupid at 5 on 5, thanks!