Washington at New York Preview: Capitals Begin Playoff Push With Battle For Top Spot In The Metro

g.jpgPhoto: New York Post

The Washington Capitals clash with the New York Islanders for the third time this season when the two teams meet on Friday night. After the Capitals beat the Islanders 4-1 on November 26 at Barclays Center, the Islanders shutout the Capitals 2-0 on January 18 at Capital One Arena. Action from Nassau Coliseum on Long Island can be seen on NBC Sports Washington+ beginning at 7 PM ET.

Capitals

The Capitals begin a three-game Metropolitan Division road trip, the first two of which come in the Big Apple, against the Islanders on Friday night. Before going 3-3-0 on a season-long six-game road trip, the Capitals had gone 2-5-1 in their previous eight road games and had dropped four straight on the road. They were outscored 24-10 over that four-game road slide. Overall, the Capitals are 17-12-2 on the road this season.

Captain Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 44 goals and the Capitals with 74 points through 63 games this season. He is currently riding a seven-game point-streak where he has tallied six goals and 10 points in that span. The 33-year old forward has also posted points in 11 of his past 12 games, posting seven goals and 17 points in that stretch. In the one game in which he did not record a point in that stretch, the Capitals were shutout. Defenseman John Carlson leads the Capitals with 47 assists this season.

After scoring 13 goals in their previous two games, the Capitals’ average of 3.39 goals-per-game has climbed up to sixth in the NHL. Their power-play has improved but is still not where it needs to be as it currently ranks 10th in the NHL with an efficiency of 22.2%. In addition to Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov is the only other Capital to average at least a point-per-game this season (1.00).

The Capitals’ 22-10-4 record against Eastern Conference opponents is the third-best in the NHL only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. Tonight marks the start of the Capitals’ playoff push with 16 of their final 18 games coming against Eastern Conference foes. 11 of those games are against Metro Division foes, including the next four and seven of the next nine games. They enter tonight’s game two points behind the Islanders for the top spot in the Metro, though the Islanders still have a game in hand. The Capitals have a four-point cushion over the Columbus Blue Jackets for second, though the Blue Jackets also own a game in hand on the Capitals.

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 22-16-4 with a save percentage of .908, a goals-against average of 3.02, and two shutouts this season, will start for the Capitals on Friday night. In his career against the Islanders, the 29-year old is 15-5-3 with a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.38. After making 32 saves in the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Islanders on November 26 in New York, he stopped 23 shots in the team’s 2-0 loss to New York on January 18.

Islanders

The Islanders continue a five-game homestand and a stretch where they play eight out of nine at home against the Capitals on Friday night. After falling 3-1 to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night, the team responded with a dominant 6-1 win over former captain John Tavares and the Maple Leafs last night. Before falling 4-3 in overtime to the Edmonton Oilers on the road last week, the team went 9-0-0 on the second half of back-to-back sets. They are 19-8-4 on home ice this season.

Under former Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz, the Islanders yield an NHL-low 2.30 goals-against per game after giving up an NHL-high 3.57 last season. After finishing last in the NHL with a penalty-killing efficiency of 73.2% a season ago, the Islanders are now 13th in that category with a rate of 80.5% with a man short this season. They are also allowing fewer shots on goal after giving up an NHL-high 35.6 per game last season. The Islanders’ average of 30.8 shots-against per game is tied with the Florida Panthers for the 10th-lowest in the NHL.

After winning the Calder Trophy last season, when he posted 63 assists and 85 points, center Mathew Barzal leads the Islanders once again in scoring as he has tallied a team-leading 35 assists and 52 points, respectively. Though, his -10 rating is the worst on the team. After recording a team-leading 40 goals a season ago, forward Anders Lee leads the Islanders in goals again with 22 this season. While the Islanders’ play in their own end has been impressive, their average of 2.89 goals-per-game is currently only 20th in the NHL.

Before blowing out the Maple Leafs last night, the Islanders started coming back down to Earth as they had dropped three of their previous four outings, giving up at least three goals in each of those losses. They were also limited to only six combined goals in those three losses.

After goaltender Robin Lehner made 34 saves in last night’s drubbing of the Maple Leafs, goaltender Thomas Greiss, who is 17-9-4 with a save percentage of .928 (third-best in the NHL), a goals-against average of 2.26 (fourth-best), and four shutouts (fifth-most) this season, will start against the Capitals on Friday night. In his career against the Capitals, the 33-year old netminder is 3-2-1 with a save percentage of .927, a goals-against average of 2.17, and one shutout. After making 23 saves in the first meeting between the two teams in November, he pitched a 19-save shutout the last time the Capitals and Islanders played back in January.

Shavings

-The Capitals 7-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night marked the 19th time this season the Capitals have scored at least five goals in a game (14-2-3), tied for the fourth most five-goal games in the NHL (Lightning: 26; Maple Leafs: 23; San Jose Sharks: 20; Flames: 19)

-The Capitals have earned a point in 15 of their last 20 games against the Islanders (12-5-3)

-Ovechkin has recorded 53 points (35 goals) in 52 career games against the Islanders

A Look Back In Time

In their last win at Nassau Coliseum, Ovechkin opened the scoring 13:06 into the first period to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied it up with 13 seconds left in the period, the game would go scoreless until overtime, when Backstrom beat goaltender Jaroslav Halak with a seeing-eye shot from out high 11:09 in. The win tied the best-of-seven series at two before going back home. Holtby made 36 saves in the victory.

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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