Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals visit the New York Islanders for their second game of the 2019-20 season on Friday night. The two Metropolitan Division rivals split the season series last year with the road team winning each game, including a 3-1 victory by the Capitals on Long Island on March 1. Action from Nassau Coliseum can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals conclude a short two-game road trip to open the season after coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday. Friday’s game will be the second road game in a stretch where the Capitals will play 10 of their first 15 games on the road. They have won at least 21 road games in each of the past five seasons.
Captain Alex Ovechkin led the NHL with 51 goals and his team with 89 points a season ago. He opened the season with a goal against the Blues. Defenseman John Carlson led the Capitals with 57 assists last season and tallied two in the season opener. Center Lars Eller also notched a pair of helpers in Wednesday’s game.
The Capitals will be without center Evgeny Kuznetsov once again on Friday as he will be serving the second game of a three-game suspension for inappropriate conduct. Defenseman Michal Kempny (hamstring) skated with the team before Wednesday’s game and is getting close to returning but will not play against the Islanders. Defenseman Martin Fehervary, who made his NHL debut against the Blues, and forward Chandler Stephenson are expected to be in the lineup once again against the Islanders. Don’t expect to see any other line changes on Friday night.
The Capitals came into this season with an emphasis on cleaning up their defensive play and certainly started out that way. After allowing two goals on seven shots in the first period of Wednesday’s contest, they were strong on the defensive side of the puck as they allowed only 15 shots the rest of the way, including none in overtime. That’s quite an impressive feat considering the Capitals were without Kempny and played with two young blueliners in the lineup, Fehervary and Jonas Seigenthaler. The Capitals will look to continue that stinginess defensively on Friday night.
Goaltender Ilya Samsonov will make his NHL debut on Friday against the Islanders with the Capitals starting a set of back-to-backs. The 22-year old went 19-14-5 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage in 36 games with the AHL’s Hershey Bears last season, his first in North America. The Capitals selected Samsonov 22nd overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Islanders were arguably the most surprising team last season as they finished one point behind the Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division despite losing captain John Tavares as an unrestricted free agent the offseason prior. They shocked many in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round before getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 2.
After allowing the most goals in the NHL during the 2017-18 season (293) and not making any drastic changes during the offseason after (though they did lose Calvin de Haan), the Islanders finished with the fewest last year (191), their first under head coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2018 and won the Jack Adams Award as the best coach in the league in June. The Islanders return the exact same blueline this season.
Captain Anders Lee, who signed a seven-year contract extension with the Islanders on July 1, led the team with 28 goals a season ago after scoring 40 and 34 goals, respectively, in each of the previous two. Center Matt Barzal, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2018, led the Islanders with 44 assists and 62 points last season, though his -5 rating was the second-worst on the team (forward Jordan Eberle: -6).
The Islanders didn’t make any significant changes over the offseason with the most turnover coming in the crease and the third-line center spot. Goaltender Robin Lehner, who was third in the NHL with a 2.13 goals-against average, second with a .930 save percentage, and a Vezina Trophy finalist with the Islanders last season, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. To replace him, the Islanders signed former Capitals’ first-round pick Semyon Varlamov, who went 20-19-9 with a .909 save percentage, a 2.87 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Colorado Avalanche last season, to a five-year contract in free agency. At the third-line center, Valterri Filppula, who recorded 17 goals, 31 points, and a +19 rating in 72 games last season, is out while Derick Brassard, who tallied 14 goals, 23 points, and a -19 rating in 70 games with the Penguins, Avalanche, and Florida Panthers last season, is in.
Expect to see goaltender Thomas Greiss, who went 23-14-2 with a .927 save percentage, a 2.28 goals-against average, and five shutouts last season, in the net for the Islanders on Friday night. In his career against the Capitals, the 33-year old is 3-3-1 with a .927 save percentage, a 2.15 goals-against average, and one shutout.
- Samsonov will be one of 13 goaltenders selected by the Capitals to make his NHL debut with the franchise and the 13th to make his first appearance under the age of 23
- Ovechkin enters Friday one power-play goal shy of passing Luc Robitaille (247) for the fourth-most power-play goals in NHL history
- When Kuznetsov or center Nicklas Backstrom have been out of the lineup over the last four season for 13 total games, Eller has 10 points (one goal), including eight points (one goal) in nine games in this scenario over the last two seasons
By Harrison Brown