UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Capitals snapped their five-game losing streak Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders that was necessary to keep alive scant hopes of making the playoffs – SportsClubStats.com has it at 2.7 percent. Washington lost defenseman Mike Green to injury, though, and it’s unclear how much time he might miss.
Five thoughts from the win on the Island:
1. Ugly win. When comparing the Capitals’ play in their back-to-back games this weekend, one day unquestionably superior. Though they lost at New Jersey on Friday, they were poised and delivered crisp passes, won battles and generated waves of quality scoring chances. Against the wide-open Islanders on Saturday, it took half the game before the Capitals appeared to handle the speed of their foes. They fell behind by two goals but managed to rally and emerge with two points.
“We definitely played better last night. It was a lot sloppier tonight and I think [there was a] fatigue factor,” Coach Adam Oates said after Satruday’s game. “Not even a whole day’s rest and they had two days off. They’re a good skating team, we were sloppy, but if anything I thought our third period was probably the best in terms of eliminating chances.”
New York outshot the Capitals 17-8 and out-attempted them 25-15 in the first period but Washington trailed only 1-0. Jason Chimera said the Islanders’ helter-skelter approach made for a difficult adjustment.
The Devils, very much in the playoff race themselves, played an even tighter game than they’re known for while the Islanders, long since out of the postseason hunt, has a roster teeming with young players looking to make their mark and were more free-flowing.
“If we play the way we played [against New Jersey] we could have won this game 5-0 for sure,” Chimera said. “I think these games are hard to play, they’re playing loose, they’re flying all over the place and there’s a lot of guys in places that you don’t see when teams are out of the playoffs. …. But sometimes you’ve got to take an ugly two points.”
2. Line changes. Just as the Capitals began to mount their comeback Oates tinkered with the lines, switching up all but the top unit. What started as Kuznetsov-Johansson-Brouwer; Chimera-Fehr-Ward; and Volpatti-Beagle-Wilson turned in to Kuznetsov-Beagle-Brouwer; Chimera-Johansson-Ward; Volpatti-Fehr-Wilson.
It seemed a reaction to the Islanders’ pace, and the alterations soon paid off when Joel Ward cashed in on a bouncing rebound in the slot to pull the Capitals even at 3. Still, it’s odd to see the trio of Chimera, Fehr and Ward split up given how dominant they’ve been at even strength. After the game, Ward shrugged off questions about playing with a new center because the objective is always the same.
“We’re just trying to make plays,” Ward said. “We know it’s getting desperate, just try to stay in the hunt as much as we can — try to hunt down pucks; the puck was bouncing a little bit, it came on my stick. It was just a matter of staying in it and just trying to fight for pucks and having three guys in the attack zone.”
3. Kuznetsov. The 21-year-old forward hasn’t made as much of a noticeable impact lately but against an aggressive, flying Islanders squad he was able to counter with speed and creativity. He played second-line left wing for the duration of the contest, after spending the last few on the fourth line, and it was his unit that was able to generate the steadiest offensive pressure in the early stages of the contest.
“I bumped him up because of the type of team the Islanders are, I thought it might play into his hands a little bit and have a good night to kind of understand our league,” Oates said. “I still feel he’s learning so much in terms of the pace of our play, the kind of game we play, the physical-ness of it and tonight I thought the Islanders’ skating might get him to skate a bit more.”
Kuznetsov’s scoring touch was most apparent early in the second period when, after John Carlson and Troy Brouwer won a battle along the boards, he pulled the puck toward the net and surveyed the scene. Kuznetsov fed the puck to Marcus Johansson, who was driving the net but his shot completely missed the target. Fortunately for the Capitals, Kuznetsov was still on the right side of the cage and when the puck sailed wide he was able to knock it past Evgeni Nabokov.
4. Holtby. While he made a relief appearance against Dallas, Braden Holtby’s start against the Islanders was his first in a week and the netminder acknowledged that his game wasn’t as clean as he would like it to be – especially on the Islanders’ second goal by rookie John Persson.
But Holtby was sturdy in the early going, making 16 of his 35 saves in the first period and keeping Washington afloat as they worked to find their rhythm against the Islanders. While not ideal from a team standpoint, the heavy workload at the outset worked in Holtby’s favor for the most part.
“You want to get into the game right away; that’s obviously the easy way to get feeling back to normal,” Holtby said. “I still think a little bit of rust showed on their second goal but luckily it didn’t cost us.”
Holtby was also flawless in the shootout, turning away attempts by Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson.
There was one particularly odd moment late in the second period, though, when Troy Brouwer was whistled for slashing. The referee’s arm went up to signal the penalty but play continued, despite the Capitals having possession. Thinking the delayed penalty was on New York, Holtby charged to the bench only to later realize his teammate was headed to the box. (If the Islanders had maintained possession, they could have had a chance to fire into an empty net.) So when he returned to his crease, the netminder sought an explanation from the official.
“I just asked why he didn’t blow it while we had the puck but he was looking the other way while his arm was up,” Holtby said. “He was looking at where the penalty took place not where we had control of the puck. Thankfully it didn’t affect anything.”
5. Today in scoreboard watching. By winning against the Islanders, the Caps aren’t dead yet – though SportsClubStats.com has them at just a 2.7 percent chance of making the playoffs prior to Sunday’s games. They need help to get there, which on Sunday means rooting for the same New York squad they just defeated. At 6 p.m. the Islanders face off at Columbus, which currently hold the second wild-card spot with 85 points and five games left to play. The biggest boost for the Capitals’ chances would be a loss for the Blue Jackets.