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Capitals 1*, Islanders 0 (*SO): Samsonov and Varlamov shutouts, Washington keeps first place

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The teams punched, counterpunched...and settled round 1 with a breakaway drill.

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders
Bowling didn’t work either.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Samsonov earned shutouts, but the Washington Capitals beat Varlamov twice in the shootout to take the extra point and pull a point ahead in their head-to-head battle for first place with the New York Islanders.

Officially, the final is 1-0 to the Caps and Samsonov, who was only beaten once in the shootout.

In balance, it was a very tight game, though the Islanders controlled the first period and could’ve easily come away with a couple goal lead, the Capitals did the same in the second period, and both teams had a few chances in the third before they slowed things down to reach overtime. It could have also turned on special teams, with the Capitals power play threatening but stymied, and the Isles power play scaring no one.

Meanwhile, as they played, the Penguins picked up another two points with another win over the Devils to take them (briefly) to first place. The Capitals and Isles will meet two more times over the next few days, while the Penguins and Bruins will each have three more games during that span.

At the end of the night, the standings stood:

Capitals - 64, Penguins - 63, Islanders - 63, Bruins - 60.

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

First Period: Strong start, one PK, stalemate

The Islanders had a really strong start, even leading in shots at 13-3 at one point (and the broadcast pointed out they were from 11 different Islanders). Ilya Samsonov nearly helped the cause early when he bobbled a puck outside of his crease. Samsonov then made a good save on a two-on-one after a patient Kyle Palmieri bought himself a clean look from the slot.

Heading into this series, a primary concern was staying out of the box to avoid facing the terrifying Capitals power play, which had converted at 50% over five prior meetings. When Nic Dowd was allowed to flatten Matt Martin from behind in the slot with the puck nowhere near, it was a sign that perhaps the refs were going to look to keep this game at 5-on-5 as much as possible.

But there was no avoiding calling a trip on Scott Mayfield when his stick pried open Nicklas Backstrom’s legs behind the Islanders net, removing a key penalty killer for two excruciating minutes at 12:16. The Isles survived that, but the post-kill discombobulation resulted in continued Capitals pressure for another minute, and a firm end to the groove the Isles were riding before the penalty.

The Isles got a little bit more going in the final minutes, including a Mathew Barzal breakaway where he was stopped twice by Samsonov. Total shots ended up 15-4 for the period, making it extra disappointing to come out of it still tied 0-0.

Second Period: Bad start, more PKs, still a stalemate

The second period was a completely different story. The Capitals got off on their front foot and pressured and cycled well. The Islanders were sloppy when they had a moment to relieve pressure, and frequently too cute and wasteful when they picked up speed through the neutral zone.

The Islanders didn’t get a truly golden chance until over halfway through the period when the Beauvillier-Pageau-Bailey connection hooked up on a rush that required a highlight Samsonov save on Bailey.

More officiating theater arrived when Barzal was called for his umpteenth high stick of the season when Dowd lifted Barzal’s stick into Zdeno Chara’s face. Chara was ticked at the near ref, who was explaining to him why there was no call, but the ref half a rink away called a penalty. No further discussion was had, we just look away and accept the subjective whims of the gods.

Mercifully, the Isles killed that power play off while enduring just a few hair-raising moments. But they continued to tempt fate.

With 2:41 remaining Noah Dobson cleared the puck over the glass while under pressure, but with room to continue skating. He knew his error right away...and stopped at the bench for a different stick on his way to the penalty box.

The Isles were disciplined in killing that one off, leaving just 40 seconds in the period and one more frightening chance against. The Caps had outshot the Isles 14-7 in the period, but it remained 0-0 heading to the final frame.

Third Period: Finally some PP, to no avail, still a stalemate

The third period was a little more even, back and forth but with general conservative play, and the edge to the Capitals.

In a double-edged sword, the Islanders finally experienced what it’s like to have an extra man, though that brought more self-inflicted danger than a threat to get the first goal.

The first power play was a complete waste, with the Capitals’ aggressive kill nearly creating chances of their own on several occasions. The Isles didn’t get a sniff until Kyle Palmieri took matters into his own hands and drove the net from the corner, forcing a good leg save from Samsonov.

The second power play was a little better, with the Isles at least trying to move quickly as an adjustment to the Caps defensive pressure. Still, no dangerous chances and nothing to show for it but a 0-0 game with six minutes to go.

The Isles’ best chance came at even strength with 4:15 left, when Barzal pounced on a Leo Komarov interception at the Caps blueline, turned the defenseman, and got an in-tight chance, but sent it high.

Overtime: All Isles, still a stalemate

The Islanders had control of the puck for almost the entire chessmatch of overtime, including about a two-minute stretch where they changed over several times while keeping three tired Capitals out there. But still, nothing doing. Barzal had the closest couple of looks.

Officially, there was only one shot on goal per side.

In the shootout...Anthony Beauvillier had the only Isles conversion, on a deke finished with a backhand. Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetsov converted for the Caps.

Trivia

The shutout was Varlamov’s fifth of the season, tied for the league lead. Surely that feels particularly meaningless with the skills drill loss.

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