What transpired at Verizon Center on Tuesday night is about what you would expect when you pit two of the three worst teams in the Metropolitan Division against each other. More turnovers than quality shots, off-target passes, 13 minor penalties and wholly ineffective power plays.
If falling to the worst team in the division wasn’t enough, this defeat marked the Capitals’ seventh straight against Metropolitan foes. Washington hasn’t beaten a divisional opponent since Dec. 27, and this was a tight — albeit sloppy — tilt that the Capitals had all the opportunity to take control of.
“This is a game that we need to find a way to win,” winger Eric Fehr said.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald scored the lone goal and Islanders veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov posted 22 saves for his third career shutout against the Capitals to secure the Islanders’ first win in six games. But for as well as Nabokov played, this contest swung in a 49-second span at Michal Neuvirth’s end of the ice
The Islanders began the third period on the power play and their most dangerous attempt came 1 minute 27 seconds into the frame when Thomas Vanek set up Frans Nielsen backdoor. The crafty center released a one-timer low below the right circle, but Neuvirth (27 saves) lunged to his left to snatch the puck in his glove, the momentum sending him tumbling in the crease. It was a highlight-reel save that kept the contest scoreless and had a fired-up crowd serenading him with chants of “Neu-vy!, Neu-vy!”
Less than a minute later, though, Josh Bailey won a forecheck battle in the corner against John Erskine and Martin Erat and chipped the puck up the boards. Brock Nelson pushed the puck back out where MacDonald blasted a shot from the point. The puck sailed past Neuvirth, who was screened on the play by Tyson Strachan.
“There was lots of traffic in front and I lost it for one second, just couldn’t pick it up,” said Neuvirth, who was making a third consecutive start. “I don’t even know if it hit something or not. Tough one.”
The teams played to a scoreless first period that featured plenty of turnovers but the Capitals were able to establish themselves. Washington’s third line, anchored by Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, was once again its most effective at even strength. They were able to sustain lengthy offensive zone shifts through their cycle, and accounted for arguably Washington’s best chance of the opening frame, which technically was not even a shot on goal.
Nabokov, who is 13-2-3 against Washington in his career, turned aside a shot from Chimera on a two-on-one rush and while Fehr came up with the rebound, he rung it off the left post.
“We had good puck possession in the first period and I think it was a little too much around the perimeter,” Fehr said.” We didn’t take it to the net when we got it back to the point whether it was traffic or what we didn’t find a way to get them through. Those are momentum killers too.”
Washington started the second period on the power play after Vanek hooked Troy Brouwer, but that man advantage featured more frustration than efficiency.
Nabokov smothered an open look by Nicklas Backstrom in the slot. Alex Ovechkin whiffed from his usual wheelhouse in the left circle. Brouwer fanned on a chance and then sent a shot in the slot wide left on a chance that caught the 38-year-old New York netminder slightly out of position. The Capitals went 0 for 6 on the power play Tuesday night, including two man-advantages that offered opportunities to tie the contest in the third.
“A lot of turnovers — especially [on] the last couple,” Coach Adam Oates said of the power play. “We had a couple chances early, and then we got away from some of the simple plays, simple reads.”
Washington also took multiple trips to the penalty box. They were whistled for four of their six total minors in the contest in the middle stanza, overtaxing players and preventing themselves from establishing any type of rhythm.
A holding penalty by rookie defenseman Connor Carrick, who was trying to impede Vanek on a breakaway, put the Capitals shorthanded at the start of the third and setting the stage for the sequence that would offer the only momentum shift of the game that mattered.
Capitals notes: Mike Green missed a third game with a concussion. . . . Mikhail Grabovski sat out a sixth straight game with an injured left ankle . . . Aaron Volpatti did not play because of an undisclosed upper-body injury.