Islanders-Capitals First Round Preview

Patrick Smith:Getty ImagesPhoto: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals (41-20-8 regular-season record, third seed in Eastern Conference) and New York Islanders (35-23-10 regular-season record, seventh seed in Eastern Conference) will meet in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Islanders have won five of the seven Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Capitals but lost the most recent series between the two teams in seven games in the 2015 first-round. NBC Sports Washington will have coverage locally, while numerous NBC Networks will broadcast the series for those outside the DMV and New York. 

Regular Season Series Recap

The two split four regular-season games between the two teams and had the same goal differential in those games. The home team lost each game. The Capitals took the first game by a score of 2-1 at Nassau Coliseum on October 4, the Islanders topped the Capitals in the second 4-3 on New Year’s Eve at Capital One Arena, the Capitals stormed back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period on won 6-4, and the Islanders held off the Capitals’ rally attempt in the last meeting as they won 5-3 despite leading 5-1 in the second period.

Regular-Season Team Leaders


Goals – F Brock Nelson (26)
Assists – C Mathew Barzal (41)
Points – Barzal (60)
Plus-Minus – C Casey Cizikas (+12)


Goals – F Alex Ovechkin (48)
Assists – D John Carlson (60)
Points – Carlson (75)
Plus-Minus – D Michal Kempny (+21)

Qualifying Round Team Leaders


Goals – F Anthony Beauvillier/C Jean-Gabriel Pageau (three)
Assists – D Devon Toews/F Josh Bailey (four)
Points – Beauvillier (five)
Plus-Minus – Barzal (+4)


Goals – five players (one)
Assists – D Radko Gudas (two)
Points – Gudas (two)
Plus-Minus – C Travis Boyd (+2)

Regular-Season Team Stats

Goals-Per-Game:                    Capitals – 3.42 (second)           Islanders – 2.78 (22nd)

Goals-Against Per Game:     Capitals – 3.07 (18th)                Islanders – 2.79 (ninth)

Power Play:                            Capitals – 19.4% (17th)             Islanders – 17.3% (T-24th)

Penalty Kill:                           Capitals – 82.6% (sixth)            Islanders – 80.7% (15th)

Shots-Per-Game:                   Capitals – 32 (11th)                   Islanders – 29.6 (T-28th)

Shots-Against Per Game:    Capitals – 30.2 (ninth)              Islanders – 31.2 (15th)

Regular-Season Advanced Stats

Corsi-for Percentage: Capitals — 51.6% (tied for seventh)        Islanders — 46.45% (29th)

Expected Goals-For Percentage: Capitals — 51.2% (13th)          Islanders — 48.84% (20th)

Scoring Chances-For Percentage: Capitals — 51.81% (ninth)    Islanders — 47.91% (22nd)

Team Save Percentage:                Capitals — .9125 (24th)            Islanders — .9233 (10th)

PDO:                                                 Capitals — 1.006 (ninth)          Islanders — 1.002 (T-14th)


C Casey Cizikas (Islanders) – The 29-year-old came off of a career year in 2018-19, where he set personal highs in goals (20) and points (33). He missed a lot of time this season due to a left leg laceration but had a solid year, recording ten goals, 14 points, and a +12 rating in 10 games. Cizikas centers the best fourth-line in the NHL that will likely go up against forwards Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson when the Islanders get the last change. If the Islanders have any chance of advancing, they will need the Cizikas line to shut down the Capitals’ top scorers. The fact that can he can provide offense to is scary for the Capitals.

D Dmitry Orlov (Capitals) – The 29-year-old bounced back from a disappointing 2018-19 campaign with four goals, 27 points, and a +5 rating. The Islanders are a stingy defensive team and will create fits for the Capitals’ high-powered offense. That means that the Capitals will have to match the Islanders’ stifling defensive unit. If defenseman John Carlson, who did not play in the round-robin due to an undisclosed injury, Orlov will almost certainly be the top guy the Capitals will lean on. He will have to answer the bell.

Goaltender Matchup

Semyon Varlamov (Islanders) – The 32-year-old had a solid season in New York, going 19-14-6 with a .914 save percentage, a 2.62 goals-against average, and two shutouts this season. At five-on-five, Varlamov recorded a .924 save percentage, a 2.26 goals-against average, a 5.27 goals-saved above average, a .827 high-danger save percentage, and a .538 quality start percentage. In 11 career games against the Capitals, who drafted him 23rd in 2004, Varlamov has posted a 4-6-1 record, a .924 save percentage, and a 2.74 goals-against average. This season, he posted a 1-2-0 record, an .896 save percentage, and a 3.39 goals-against average this season. He was solid in the Islanders’ four-game qualifying round series win against the Florida Panthers, recording a .932 save percentage and a 1.77 goals-against average.

Braden Holtby (Capitals) – The 30-year-old had the worst season of his NHL career, going 25-14-6 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average in 2019-20. At five-on-five, Holtby posted a .905 save percentage, a -14.70 goals-saved above average, a .786 high-danger save percentage, and a .468 quality start percentage. In 27 career regular-season games against the Islanders, Holtby is 16-6-3 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average, including a 0-1-0 record, a .857 save percentage, and a 3.85 goals-against average in three games against them this season. He performed well in the Capitals’ round-robin tournament, going 1-1-1 with a .918 save percentage and a 1.71 goals-against average.

Projected Game 1 Lineups


Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey

Tom Kuhnhackl — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Derick Brassard

Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews — Scott Mayfield

Nick Leddy — Andy Greene

Semyon Varlamov

Thomas Greiss


Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana — Nicklas Backstrom — T.J. Oshie

Carl Hagelin — Lars Eller — Ilya Kovalchuk

Richard Panik — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny — John Carlson

Brenden Dillon — Dmitry Orlov

Jonas Siegenthaler — Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek 

Capitals’ Keys To The Series

  • Pressure The Islanders In The D Zone: The Islanders cannot match the Capitals’ star power up front, so the Capitals’ best approach is to pressure them and have as much offensive zone time as possible. The Islanders do not shoot a lot and are more focused on their play in their own end, so if the Capitals pepper Varlamov with shots and wear out their defense, they should have a good chance to advance.
  • Shoot: The Capitals had more shots than the Islanders and scored at least three goals in three of their four games this season. The Capitals know all too well how goaltending guru Mitch Korn coaches his netminder, so they should know where to shoot and what kind of shots to take. A couple of these players are familiar with Varlamov’s tendencies from his days in Washington, though it has been a while since he has been in the organization.
  • Figure Out The Power Play: The Capitals’ power-play has underperformed since December as they ranked 28th with a 15.6% power-play efficiency after December 7. They went one-for-ten in the round-robin. Despite the Islanders’ stingy defensive unit, they were average in terms of penalty-killing percentage. Since they will not allow that much at even strength, the Capitals will have to feed off of whatever they get on the man advantage, and they must turn it around to go far this summer.

Islanders’ Keys To The Series

  • Shut Down The Capitals’ Top-Six: The Capitals got only three goals from their top-six forwards in the round-robin tournament and only one in their first two games. As a result, they only won one of the three games. While the Islanders have an impressive top-six forward unit themselves, it does not quite match the Capitals’, and they only had three players with 20+ goals during the regular season, and Pageau scored 24 of his 26 with the Ottawa Senators. If they cannot outscore the Capitals’ top-six forwards, they will have to shut them down defensively.
  • Special Teams: While the Islanders are one of the stingiest defensive teams in the NHL, their penalty-kill is anything but impressive while their power-play was one of the worst in the league. The Capitals’ power-play has underperformed this season, but they have the talent to turn it around and will likely get Carlson back at some point during the series, making it even more dangerous. This could be the most significant determining factor in the series, and if the Islanders want a chance, they will have to get enough contributions from their power-play and penalty-kill.
  • Puck Management: The Islanders might be known as one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, but their 896 giveaways this season were the most during the regular campaign by 69. That just will not work against a strong transition team in the Capitals who will only feed off of turnovers by the Islanders. While the Islanders have some strong forwards, they do not quite have the offensive punch that the Capitals have, so turning the puck over will be a disaster if the Islanders do so too much.

Stanley Cup Playoff Experience

The Capitals have a combined 1191 games worth of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and 11 players from their lineup in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights remain with the team.

The Islanders have a combined 893 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. Three players have combined to win a total of five Stanley Cups (forward Andrew Ladd: two, forward Tom Kuhnackl: two, defenseman Johnny Boychuk: one).

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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