Generally, the “battle level” narrative is something I find annoying, but this was truly a game where the presence and absence of it were very noticeable in the Islanders. For much of the game, they were pushed around and didn’t respond in kind or adjust to some laxed officiating and get themselves dirty. The third period was different this time though, and they fought through it to tie the game late.
The first period got off to a very slow start, but with some heavy hitting by the Capitals. Through 11:29, shots were 3-1 Washington and it didn’t get much better in the remaining eight plus minutes. The Isles were able to squeak a shot past Braden Holtby that trickled toward the goal line, but it was dextrously swept away by the stick of Karl Alzner.
Toward the end of the period, things opened up a bit as the teams exchanged rushes. John Tavares broke in on Holtby, but was tied up by ex-Isle Jack Hillen who got enough of him to get a shove out of Tavares as the Caps headed back the other way. With :12 seconds left, Mike Green got a weak wrister off from the top of the circle that knuckled past Evgeni Nabokov. It appeared to be the softie du jour. The Hillen tie-up probably could have been a penalty, but Tavares stopped playing and pursuing the puck. A rare break in focus for him.
The final line after the first; 10 shots on goal and 17 blocks between the two teams. The Caps outhit the Isles 16-7 and it was evident that it was effective.
The second was a better period for excitement purposes with both goaltenders being the key. As soon as the period started, Josh Bailey sprang Kyle Okposo for a mini-breakaway that Holtby got a piece of. Okposo missed the rebound.
The Capitals did keep things tight for a while after that in the neutral zone and were creating turnovers. This and the physical play seemed to be getting under Tavares’ skin again. He slashed Troy Brouwer after a hit and that battle continued throughout the period.
Coach Capuano juggled the lines a bit and that seemed to give the Isles a little bit of a spark. Notable combinations were McDonald, Tavares, Cizikas which generated a nice forecheck and a scoring chance that was followed up with a pretty mid-air bat by Keith Aucoin off an elevated Cizikas pass.
Then the penalties started.
Andrew MacDonald took a high sticking penalty and Nabokov probably played his best sequence of the season with a sliding stop on Mathieu Perreault, a sliding stop on a one-timer by Ovechkin and a big pad save on Hillen as the power play ended.
The Isles would get their power play opportunity after a goalmouth scrum that Matt Hendricks entered late to knock Thomas Hickey to the ice. The Isles had a couple of chances despite some slow and deliberate movement, but Brad Boyes negated the last :55 seconds of the power play when he took a lazy hooking penalty after a turnover along the boards.
Braden Holtby got the crowd into it by continually coming up with big saves.
Toward the end of the period Brouwer again went after Tavares, pushing him while he was already down on the ice. Travis Hamonic came to his aid and matching roughing minors were given. The unfortunate part of the situation is that the Islanders do not do similar things to make the opposition superstars less comfortable. It’s simply not enough just responding to the aggressor in those situations. What needs to be done is someone like Matt Martin or Colin McDonald following Nicklas Backstrom around the ice and letting him know that he will feel Brouwer’s transgressions.
Kyle Okposo noted the Capital’s stupidity in the intermission interview. While annoying, the Capitals hardly appear stupid when what they’re doing is working.
The goaltenders remained the story in the third period. Nabokov made a big pad save on an Ovechkin chance and followd that up with a sliding stop on Johansson.
Later in the period, the Isles began to show that “battle level”. The fourth line of Reasoner, Martin, Cizikas hemmed the Caps in for what felt like an eternity and that continued through two additional lines in sequence. The Tavares line continued it, then, with the Isles changing, Josh Bailey took the puck into the Caps zone 1-on-5, created some space along the left wing boards with a deke and carried behind the net. He continued around the other side as his teammates joined him and fed Frans Nielsen cruising down the slot and he passed off to Okposo just to the right who blasted a one timer by Holtby.
Credit Capuano for making some in-game adjustments moments later by putting Matt Martin on with Boyes and Tavares. That line started another impressive forecheck culminating in Martin zeroing in on a Caps defender who panicked the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. On the ensuing penalty, Tavares had a glorious chance for the go-ahead goal, but appeared to have his stick slashed in half.
The overtime was pretty conservative with the Isles outshooting the Caps 3-1. Andrew MacDonald made a great sliding block on Ovechkin after and Islander turnover, and there were a couple of scary, nearly self-inflicted wound type moments.
Thomas Hickey tipped a weak Capitals’ shot in on Nabokov, and Alzner took a planned shot off the boards that ricocheted right into Nabokov’s paint with him standing backwards.
John Tavares and Frans Nielsen teamed up for a solid shift that nearly netted the game winner on a deflected shot, but they were able to at least kill some more time off the clock and gain a faceoff in the Caps end with 12 seconds left which limited any chance for the Caps to get down the other way.
- Hendricks-fake/wrist shot, saved
- Ov forehand, backhand goal (the Nielsen)
Unfortunate ending to a solid game.
- People continue to want to blame referees for non-calls, however, this is what the playoffs will look like. The Isles still can’t or won’t adjust to how a game is being called and play to that. That will be a problem going forward. They need to see that these semi-dirty plays are being let go, and respond in kind. If someone is smacking JT around, smack Ovechkin and Backstrom around. Side-note, it doesn’t take Boulton or Finley to do that. Hamonic, McDonald, Martin, Cizikas etc. are all capable of it. Also, you do not respond by going after Brouwer, you target their skill guys.
- That being said, man did they battle and work hard in the third. They drove play in the final two periods (and OT) and outshot the Capitals 31-17.
- Nabokov was stellar after the early softie.
- That Holtby kid is good. I think his glove is a satellite dish.
- Okposo was 6-1 on draws. Maybe he’s a center and Bailey’s a wing?
- The Caps doubled up the Isles hits 28-14 (Martin had 6). Hit counting is dubious and arenas count them differently, so that caveat may apply, but this passes the eye test as well.
- The Isles got some scoreboard luck as Winnipeg, New Jersey and Carolina lost. Philly beat Toronto.