Analytical Preview: Washington Capitals Face New York Islanders in First Round Matchup

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Following the Washington Capitals2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins in the final game of the round robin portion of the NHL Playoffs, the Caps solidified the third seed in the Eastern Conference and a matchup with the Barry Trotz helmed New York Islanders. The Islanders came off a qualifying round series win against the offensive minded Florida Panthers.

In this piece, we’ll take a look at the head-to-head statistics between the Capitals and the Islanders and identify a few players and statistics to watch. [Statistics in this piece are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, and NHL.com.]

Islanders Overview

The Islanders ended the pandemic-shortened regular season on quite a cold spell, posting a 2-4-4 record in their final 10 games. They were outscored 23-15 at even strength, and posted the sixth worst save percentage at five on five play in the NHL in that stretch. That stretch is now ancient history, with the Islanders’ convincing 3-1 series victory against the Florida Panthers.

The Isles outscored the Panthers 7-3 at even strength, and outproduced the Panthers in high danger chances for. The goaltending was immensely improved, with Semyon Varlamov posting a .958 save percentage and a 0.97 goals against average during five on five play. Varlamov has a .932 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average in all situations in the playoffs so far, including stopping 24 high danger shots on 26 chances.

Head-to-Head

In four matchups in the 2019-20 regular season, the Isles and the Caps split the season series 2-2-0. Interestingly enough, each team scored 14 goals in the season series. Here are the breakdowns of the matchups in the regular season:

  • On October 4th, 2019:
    • The Capitals took the first contest in a low scoring 2-1 affair, with a first period goal from Jakub Vrana, and the game winning goal on the power play in the second period from TJ Oshie. Rookie netminder Ilya Samsonov was fantastic, posting a .962 save percentage (Game Log).
  • On December 31st, 2019:
    • The Islanders took this match 4-3. Kuznetsov scored twice in the game. Braden Holtby was pedestrian that night, posting a .818 save percentage after giving up 4 goals on 22 shots against (Game Log).
  • On January 18th, 2020:
    • This is the infamous Devon Toews game, where he mocked Evgeny Kuznetsov’s bird celebration, sparking a furious comeback from the Capitals to take a 6-4 win after trailing 4-1 at the end of the second period. Ovechkin netted a hat trick, and Samsonov was excellent in a relief appearance for the struggling Holtby (Game Log).
  • On February 10th, 2020:
    • The Islanders took this round 5-3. The Capitals gave up three goals in the first period of this one, and could never close the distance. Samsonov struggled in this one, posting a .750 save percentage on 20 shots against. Holtby was strong in relief, saving all 12 shots he faced in 26:25 of ice time (Game Log).

Context

Caps vs Isles H2H

Interestingly enough, the Capitals ruled the possession game against the Islanders, but the possession game isn’t necessarily a strength of the Islanders. They posted the third worst Corsi For percentage in the NHL during the regular season with a 46.45, and the second worst Fenwick For percentage of 46.67.

This is where the high danger chances come into play. The Islanders capitalize on chances created by their aggressive forecheck and counter-attacks from their strong team defense. The Islanders can get up the ice in a hurry and have offensive talent to bury those chances.

The key for the Capitals in this series is to minimize the damage on counter-attacks, especially on sloppy offensive zone entries and forced passes across the point. On top of that, the Caps will need to be organized and exit the defensive zone cleanly, or the Isles will create scoring chances off of their aggressive forecheck. Trotz’s formula for success should come as no surprise to Capitals fans.

Here are some other key season long statistics throughout the regular season for both teams, and how they’ll stack up against each other:

Players to Watch:

Washington

  • John Carlson: 1 goal and 4 assists
  • Nicklas Backstrom: 5 assists
  • Alex Ovechkin: 3 goals and an assist

New York

  • Anthony Beauvillier: 2 goals and 4 assists
  • Devon Toews: 3 goals and 2 assists
  • Brock Nelson: 2 goals and 3 assists

By Justin Trudel

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About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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