Islanders @ Capitals Preview: Capitals Host Red-Hot Islanders In Potential Playoff Preview on Friday

NHL: New York Islanders at Washington CapitalsPhoto: NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Capitals take on the New York Islanders in the second meeting of the season between the two teams. The Capitals took the first game against the Islanders by a score of 4-1 on November 26. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7:30 PM Eastern. 

Islanders

Former Capitals head coach Barry Trotz returns to Washington for the first time since resigning from his position with the Capitals on June 18, 11 days after leading the Capitals to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Trotz led the Capitals to three Metropolitan Division titles, two Presidents’ Trophy titles, and one Stanley Cup during his four-year tenure with the team. Two former Capitals’ assistants have followed Trotz to the Island: associate coach Lane Lambert and goaltending coach Mitch Korn.

In his first season with the Islanders, Trotz is the early favorite to win the Jack Adams Trophy, which he won with the Capitals in 2016. After the Islanders lost captain John Tavares in free agency, Trotz has guided them to a 28-15-4 record and the team enters Friday’s game just one point behind the Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets for the top spot in the division with each team playing 46 games. The Islanders have won three consecutive games and 12 of their past 15 entering Friday’s game.

After the Islanders gave up an average of 3.57 goals-against per game, the most in the NHL, a season ago, Trotz has them giving up an average of 2.59 goals-against per game this year, which is the lowest in the league. The Islanders entered Thursday allowing an average of 31.1 shots-per-game, which is tied with the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for 15th in the NHL, after allowing an average of 35.6 last season, the most in the league, despite the fact that the team barely changed the personnel on the backend in the offseason.

Reigning Calder Trophy winner and center Matt Barzal leads the Islanders with 30 assists and 43 points in 46 games this season after leading all NHL rookies with 63 assists and 85 points last year. He has one goal and five points in his past five games and assists in three consecutive appearances.

The team concludes a set of back-to-back games after beating the New Jersey Devils at home by a score of 4-1 on Thursday.

Goaltender Robin Lehner started against the Devils on Thursday, when he made 16 saves in the win, meaning that the Capitals will likely get Thomas Greiss, who’s 13-8-1 with a save percentage of .918, a goals-against average of 2.62, and one shutout this season. In his career against the Capitals, the 32-year old is 4-2-1 with a save percentage of .907 and a goals-against average of 2.40.

Capitals

The Capitals look to snap a three-game slide (0-2-1) and a stretch where they have lost six out of their last nine games (3-4-2). Prior to their recent cold streak, the team won four consecutive games and 16 out of their past 19 to power themselves to a tie for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division along with the Columbus Blue Jackets with 59 points. The team hopes to respond from back-to-back regulation losses to the St. Louis Blues and Predators, where they were outscored by a combined total of 11-3.

Captain Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 33 goals and his team with 52 points in 46 games. After his career-high 14-game point streak (17 goals and 23 points) and six-game goal-scoring streak (10 goals) ended, the 32-year old has just four goals and nine points in 14 games since. Though, he enters Friday’s game against the Islanders with a four-game point-streak, where he has posted three goals and five points in that span. Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the team with 34 assists and his 46 points are second behind Ovechkin.

With the Capitals in a race with four teams in the division eying top spot, expect the team to shuffle their lineup again after struggling to find the back of the net during their three-game skid (four goals in that span). The team shuffled their lineup up against the Predators but it backfired. The Capitals should have a new lineup on Friday night.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 17-10-2 with a save percentage of .912, a goals-against average of 2.85, and two shutouts this season, will likely return from an eye injury that has kept him out the past two games against New York on Friday night. Lifetime against the Islanders, the 29-year old netminder is 15-4-3 with a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.39. He made 32 wins in the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Islanders in November.

Special Teams

The Capitals rank 24th in the NHL with a penalty-killing efficiency of 78.2% while the Islanders rank 19th at 79% after recording a league-low 73.2% penalty-killing rate a season ago.

The Islanders rank sixth on the power-play with an efficiency of 23.2% while the Capitals are right behind them at 22.5%.

Playoff Preview?

If the Stanley Cup Playoffs started today, the Capitals and Islanders would face each other in the first round with Washington owning home-ice advantage. Could these two teams see each other in the Spring?

Skate Shavings

-The Capitals have earned a point in 15 of their last 19 games against the Islanders (12-4-3)

-Ovechkin has recorded 53 points (35 goals) in 51 career games against the Islanders

-Over the last 13 games and since Dec. 21, the Capitals have killed off 38 of their 44 penalties (86.4%), the eighth-best penalty kill rate in the NHL during that span

A Look Back In Time

After a scoreless first period in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference First Round Series, forward Joel Ward tapped in a loose back after getting the rebound from defenseman Brooks Orpik‘s slapper from the point in the crease with 1:32 left in the second period. Center Frans Nielsen tied the game with a wrister from the slot that squeaked through Holtby’s legs with 16:48 left in regulation. With 7:18 to go, center Evgeny Kuznetsov powered to the net and waited out goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders’ defense to go top shelf to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead. That would be the final as the Capitals advanced to the second round against the New York Rangers. Holtby made 10 saves in the win.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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