Recap: Capitals @ Islanders (10/1/2016)

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Credit: AP / Jessica Hill

While the Washington Capitals celebrate the return of their World Cup cohort, the standouts from their training camp who were left behind continued to impress in a power-play filled 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in Saturday’s action from Bridgeport, Conn.

Lars Eller and Nate Schmidt each finished with a power-play goal and an assist, with Justin Williams adding two assists. Both Schmidt and Williams saw their first preseason action Saturday.

Saturday also saw Braden Holtby return to the Capitals lineup for the first time since being awarded the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender during the 2015-16 season. The 26-year-old netminder, recently returning from Team Canada’s gold-medal winning campaign in the World Cup of Hockey, picked up right where he left off last season making some dazzling saves in the first period.

Holtby’s efforts helped keep the Caps in the game until defenseman Nate Schmidt, who had missed some time during this week’s practices after suffering a lower-body injury, blasted a point shot through traffic during a Capitals power-play for the game’s opening tally.

A shining performance by Holtby and a lead heading into the first intermission would normally be cause for celebration, but there was a blemish on the opening frame in the form of injury to Capitals forward Marcus Johansson, who was tangled up with Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock early in the frame and did not return to the bench.

The injury to Johansson deprived Barry Trotz and the coaching staff the opportunity to further study the trio of Johansson, center Lars Eller, and right winger Justin Williams as a possible line combination. The trio has been together for much of training camp while the Capitals were short-handed due to having so many of their regulars selected to various World Cup rosters. The combination would fulfill Washington’s desire to have a speedy and effective two-way third line which was a motivating factor in acquiring Eller from the Montreal Canadiens during the 2016 NHL Draft. Obviously, any significant injury to Johansson would prove to be a setback to implementing this dynamic into their offense.

The injury woes worsened for the Capitals during the intermission as the team announced that defenseman Madison Bowey, a second-round pick of the Capitals in 2013 NHL Draft, would not return after suffering an upper-body injury.

Despite being down two players following the injuries to Johansson and Bowey, the Capitals continued to press the attack, drawing two power-play opportunities in the second period, the latter of which yielding a two-on-one shorthanded breakaway from the Islanders that was artfully broken up by defenseman Christian Djoos.

The third period began with some fireworks in the form of a heavyweight fight between Capitals forward Liam O’Brien and Islanders winger Ross Johnston.

The bout catalyzed the Islanders offense, as forward Anders Lee buried a rebound right at the goal mouth to even the score at 1-1 early in the third period. The draw was short-lived, as Eller was able to one-time a pass from Williams during Washington’s seventh power-play opportunity, giving Washington a 2-1 lead in the third period.

The Islanders pushed back, but Holtby was equal to the task, turning aside 24 shots to backstop the Capitals in the winning effort.

NOTES:

-Lars Eller looks increasingly comfortable at center and it’s very likely he will open the season as Washington’s third-line center, a role envisioned from the outset after Eller was acquired by Montreal in the offseason. In particular, Eller’s defensive instincts and faceoff prowess were well displayed Saturday.

-Justin Williams has lost a little weight and looked a little trimmer during his first pre-season action. The Ontario native began incorporating yoga into his offseason training regimen and it appears to be paying off.

-Jakub Vrana and Stan Galiev have formed some great chemistry during the pre-season. Galiev is vulnerable to waivers, but the duo could do some damage together in the AHL ranks this season. Vrana in particular showed the speed and instincts that could make him an offensive force at the NHL level as his development continues.

-Riley Barber has been a repeat offender in the first preseason games and took another penalty (albeit a questionable call) in the first period. A contender to earn the “14th forward” spot that is available this training camp, the former Miami-Ohio standout will face an uphill battle to make opening night’s roster if he can’t stay out of the penalty box.

-The Capitals will next be in action Monday when they host the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center. The regular season opens on Oct. 13.

By Keith Leonard

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