After an unprecedented season, the Stanley Cup playoffs finally began on August 11. One series many have been anticipating is the Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders matchup. The Capitals are coming off an amazing season, but throughout the regular season, both teams tallied two wins against each other, scoring 14 goals apiece.
Phase Four of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan saw the Capitals in the Eastern Cup Round Robin. Washington clinched the third seed while Islanders competed in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in four-game series against the Florida Panthers.
The Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders playoff matchup has a long and storied history between these two franchises. The Easter Epic still goes down as one of the most infamous, and longest, hockey games of all time. Washington is one of the strongest teams offensively in the league and will be facing a fourth line that has yet to live up to last season’s glory.
Much of the history between these teams occurred in the 20th century. The only time these franchises have competed in the playoffs together in the last two decades was in 2015. This was former Capitals coach Barry Trotz’s first postseason series with the Caps. Now, Trotz coaches the Islanders, making this series the team Barry Trotz coached to their first Stanley Cup against Barry Trotz.
Slated to be a mediocre 2018-19 season, Trotz turned it into one where New York finished 103 points, the most it had experienced since 1984. His success continued into this season where the Islanders finished the season with 80 points. However, despite his quick turnaround of the Islanders, the Capitals are coming in with a stronger regular season. Washington concluded the regular season with 90, playing only one more game than New York.
Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders Round One Series
Islanders’ Defensive Strength
Coming into the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Capitals leading scorer and Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson will be back on the ice. Carlson, who tallied 15 goals and 60 assists in the regular season sat out the round-robin. However, even with the addition of Carlson and Sharks-acquisition Brenden Dillon, it remains up in the air whether Washington can muster the same defensive prowess New York showed during the qualifying round.
Johnny Boychuk is also expected to return to play after he suffered a head injury during Game One against the Panthers. Even if he is unable to make his comeback, Andy Greene was a seamless replacement to the Islanders’ already deep defence. The tandem of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will be the pair to watch, as they will most likely receive a lot of ice time to fend off Alex Ovechkin.
In the regular season, the Islanders’ defensive zone structure devastated other teams in the league. In the qualifiers, New York brought back its fire, shutting down the sixth highest-scoring team in the NHL. The Islanders held the Panthers to seven goals over four games. If the Islanders continue to play this way, then it will be hard for any team to score on them.
Capitals’ Offensive Depth
The Capitals have the best offensive player in the series in left-wing Ovechkin. With 19 assists and 48 goals, if he plays his best, he will be an unstoppable force. While he scored zero goals in the round-robin, Trotz must prepare for the Ovechkin of the regular season.
Even if Ovechkin is not at his finest, Washington has dominated New York in terms of possession in the past two seasons. However, this should not be taken as a sure sign that the Capitals will dominate the ice. The Islanders’ offence is routinely weak on possession. New York tallied the third-worst Corsi For percentage in the league with 46.45 and posted the second-worst Fenwick percentage of 46.67.
The Capitals have a deep offence with some of the strongest players in the league, but for them to pull through, they must fight off any opponents’ attacks, especially focusing on forced passes across the point.
In the round-robin, the Capitals lacked steam from their first two lines, who only scored three goals in Game One and Two collectively. Players like Richard Panik and Travis Boyd should not be carrying an offence that contains Ovechkin. While the situation improved in Game Three and Game Four when Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie scored, Washington needs to shoot more effectively.
Islanders’ Offensive Burst
The Islanders will be entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a formidable four-line depth. The trio of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey led the team in their win over the Panthers. However, just like the Capitals, New York’s top line of Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee should have taken more control offensively.
While New York easily dismantled the Panthers, but the Caps are a different team. It cannot be determined how much of the Islanders’ win can be contributed to them, and how much can be blamed on a lack of offensive zone structure from Florida.
The Panthers relied on dump-and-chase, which led to a New York defence that centred around waiting for Florida to trip up rather than active defending. Offensively, however, Eberle and Beauvillier can be credited for their success scoring two and three goals, respectively.
The Islanders’ defence lacked energy, but Washington should prepare to exit the defensive zone cleanly. If the Caps do not, the Isles will create chances of their aggressive forecheck. The Isles’ offence and defence both capitalize on chances and are able to finish them, which makes them a large threat.
Prediction for New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals
Models have been split on who will take this series, but most are going towards Washington. The great determining factor in this series will which versions of these teams came to play. It is the teams we saw in the regular season or the teams we saw in bubble competition? The Islanders looked far better in the qualifiers than they did back in March. Coupled with Trotz’s coaching, they could be unstoppable.
The Capitals presented a subdued and sleepy performance throughout the round-robin. Many labelled Ovechkin as the Capitals’ largest advantage, but he produced zero points. If Washington competes in this same way, the Islanders’ defensive structure could pull through.
Prediction: Islanders in seven.
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