The New York Islanders’ modest run of accumulating points — across multiple postponement gaps — came to an end in a 2-0 loss to the Washington Capitals at UBS Arena Saturday afternoon.
While the Isles’ three-game win streak came against weaker teams, the Capitals pose a greater threat as one of the four teams charging away at the top of the Metropolitan Division. In that context, this game looked a little bit like their struggles earlier in the season: Difficulty generating or sustaining offense, and getting outchanced throughout.
Semyon Varlamov delivered a strong performance in goal, but that’s never enough when the rest of the team can’t manage to get one puck past Vitek Vaneck.
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First Period: Ho-hum
Needing to get on a roll and facing a playoff-level divisional opponent, the Isles did not get off to an inspiring start. The Capitals had multiple stretches of sustained pressure while the Isles were pretty much one-and-done on each foray.
That was made worse by the Capitals getting on the board early, after a defensive mixup on the Capitals’ entry left Tom Wilson all alone at the top of the slot. Three Isles leaned toward Aliaksei Protas, so Wilson had plenty of time to rip a shot home on Varlamov’s right side.
TJ Oshie had left the game after a couple of shifts with an upper body injury, no doubt making it easier for the Isles to kill the Capitals’ lone power play of the period. That arguably gave them a little more life afterward.
Noah Dobson came closest to getting an equalizer when he walked into the slot and sent a strong shot off the post, bouncing off Vitek Vaneck but not getting a favorable bounce. Other than that, there wasn’t much going, though they had one short sequence of pressure near the end of the period.
Varlamov, who looked sharp all afternoon, made 15 stops as the Isles were outshot 16-7 in the period.
Second Period: Bailey could have tied it late
The second was also fairly sleepy, and again tough for the Isles to get much going offensively outside of their power play. (Although that unit has been hot for over a month, it still feels strange to write that.)
In between their two power play opportunities at opposite ends of the period, they killed an Anders Lee high-sticking penalty without much difficulty. Shots overall were closer, 10-8 for the Caps.
Late in the period, after Dobson was hauled down behind the Isles net, the Isles PP unit went to work and did well to move it around. Oliver Wahlstrom in particular was good in tight to elude pressure on the boards.
They directed some pucks toward the net, created some chaos to open up a great cross-crease passing lane, but...Bailey gonna Bailey. He may have been robbed if he shot...but he really should have shot:
Shot was there, Bailey didn't take it #Isles pic.twitter.com/9acOYY0Stw— (@IslesFix) January 15, 2022
It might’ve been a different game had Bailey buried that there instead of trying to play back across the crease. Alas.
Third Period: Not enough
The Islanders’ youngest forwards were the main bright spot for much of this game, with Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows continuing their recent trend of assertive play. Mathew Barzal had a fairly quiet game, but for him such games still include some danger created.
Wahlstrom had the finest opportunity in the first half of the third when he weaved into the slot, undressed a defenseman and made a move around Vanecek. But the Capitals goalie anticipated well and got his outstretched leg out to block the attempt, which Wahlstrom could not lift. Zach Parise, per usual, was arriving at the net to add more distraction — but he may have distracted the shooter this time while tipping off Vanecek to which direction Wahlstrom would have to deke.
The Isles had more looks on a power play midway through the period, but Dobson’s passes to Wahlstrom and Bellows were always just a bit off, and they never got off a truly good shot despite some good passing in the buildup.
They pulled Varlamov for a sixth attacker with two minutes left, and held good possession with the aforementioned players. But they never quite conjured the optimal opportunity, and the Capitals got some big shot blocks while Venacek cut off the angles when called upon.
After some exhausting Isles possession, the Caps finished it with an easy glide-in empty netter with 11 seconds to go.
A big home-and-home awaits Monday and Tuesday vs. the Flyers.
It’s odd to say it with 52 games to go, but each set of dropped points looms larger and larger in the Islanders’ longshot quest to climb back into shouting distance of the wild card. The second wildcard-holding Bruins picked up two more points this afternoon with an overtime win.