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The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders will meet in the District on Tuesday for the first time since the Islanders humbled the Capitals in five games during the best-of-seven first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series in August. The two will clash again on Thursday.
The Capitals and Islanders split four regular-season meetings last season and the road team has won every game between the two teams when they have gotten together since the start of the 2018-19 season except the Islanders’ 2-1 overtime win in Game 3 of last year’s first round. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally starting at 7 PM ET both nights. Tuesday’s game can also be viewed on NBCSN for viewers outside of the DMV.
The Islanders will be playing the second and third games of a five-game road trip. They opened the stretch with a 2-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday and will conclude it with back-to-back games at the Philadelphia Flyers, whom they defeated in the second round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, over the weekend. The Islanders have lost their last two road games by a combined score of 7-0 after winning their season opener on the road 4-0 at the New York Rangers.
After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final where they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, the Islanders have started the season with a modest 3-2-0 record and have not scored a goal in either of their two losses. A two-game winning streak, where they allowed one goal, came to an end on Sunday. They head into Tuesday’s slate of NHL activity one point behind the Devils, Flyers, and Boston Bruins, who are tied for third in the East Division. New York has a game in hand on the Flyers but a lower points percentage (.600) than the Devils and Bruins (each have .700).
Center Mathew Barzal leads the Islanders with four points through five games this season but has gotten on the scoresheet in only two of the five contests. The 22-year-old’s two goals are tied with forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and center Brock Nelson for the team lead. Defensemen Nick Leddy and Noah Dobson co-lead the team with three assists in five games but Leddy has earned only one in the past four while Dobson has two over the same span. Forward Anthony Beauvillier is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
The Islanders’ 1.60 goals-against per game is the lowest in the NHL this season among teams that have played more than two games (Dallas Stars: 1.00) but their 1.80 goals-per-game is last. Their 18.2% power-play efficiency is 19th and their 88.2% penalty-killing rate is sixth. The Islanders’ average of 27.2 shots-per-game is tied with the Devils for 23rd but their average of 27.6 shots-against per game is 11th. Their 58% faceoff-winning percentage is the best in the league this season.
The Islanders had a quiet offseason due to salary cap constraints and with Barzal and defenseman Rylan Pulock in need of new contracts as restricted free agents. They re-signed forward Matt Martin, who has earned a +1 rating and a 51.43% five-on-five Corsi-f0r percentage in five games this season, and defenseman Andy Greene, who has posted a +1 rating and a 35.66% Corsi-for percentage. They also signed goaltender Corey Schnieder for their taxi squad. The Islanders traded defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche and lost goaltender Thomas Greiss, center Derick Brassard, and forward Tom Kuhnackl in free agency in order to create cap space to sign Barzal and Pulock.
The Capitals continue a six-game homestand, which is tied for their longest of the season. They earned a split in the first two games against the Buffalo Sabres, both of which went to a shootout, taking three out of a possible four points. The games were also the first two of four that they will be without captain Alex Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov, and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who are all on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Samsonov has tested positive for the virus while both Ovechkin and Orlov have anti-bodies.
The Capitals have dropped three of their last four games but have recorded a point in every game that they have played this season and enter Tuesday’s series opener leading the East Division with nine points (3-0-3 record) out of a possible 12. They are one of only four teams (Montreal Canadiens: 4-0-2, Dallas Stars/Florida Panthers: 2-0-0) who have yet to lose a game in regulation this season. All of the Capitals’ games this season after their season opener have been one-goal games.
Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals with four goals and seven points in six games this season. The 33-year-old has recorded two goals and three points in his last two games, three goals in his last four, and has not gotten on the scoresheet in only one game this season. Ovechkin, forward T.J. Oshie, and defenseman John Carlson share the team lead with four assists. Oshie, 34, enters Tuesday’s game on a three-game point streak, where he has recorded one goal and three points. Carlson, 31, has earned three assists on a three-game assist streak. Forward Tom Wilson, who missed Sunday’s game vs. the Sabres due to a lower-body injury, is listed as day-to-day and his status for the series against the Islanders is unknown even though he practiced Monday morning. Head coach Peter Laviolette told the media on Monday that he is going to look at what his options are before making a decision on Wilson’s status for Tuesday’s series opener.
The Capitals have averaged 3.50 goals-per-game (sixth) through six games but 3.17 goals-against per game (20th). Their 33.3% power-play percentage enters Monday as the eighth-best in the NHL but their 73.9% penalty-killing rate is ranked 22nd. The Capitals’ average of 26.8 shots-per-game sits 25th, slightly below the Islanders, and 31.5 shots-against per game is 20th. Their 45% faceoff-winning percentage is 28th.
Tuesday’s game will mark the first time that Laviolette and Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, who coached the Capitals from 2014-18 and led them to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history before heading to Long Island, will meet since Laviolette was hired by the Capitals on September 15. Laviolette was Trotz’s successor with the Nashville Predators after the 2013-14 season when Trotz was fired by the organization he spent 15 seasons with. Laviolette was fired by the Predators after five and a half seasons with the team on January 6, 2020.
Capitals – Vitek Vanecek, 25 (2-0-2, .912 save percentage, 2.87 goals-against average this season), and Craig Anderson, 39. Anderson has gone 9-8-4 with a .921 save percentage, a 2.61 goals-against average, and three shutouts in 24 career games vs. the Islanders. Vanecek has never played against the Islanders in his career.
Islanders – Semyon Varlamov, 32, (3-0-0, .988 save percentage – second in NHL, league-leading 0.33 goals-against average, league-leading two shutouts), and Ilya Sorokin, 25 (0-2-0, .875 save percentage, 3.57 goals-against average). Varlamov has a 4-6-1 record, a .924 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average in 11 career regular-season games against the Capitals. In the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the two teams last season, Varlamov posted a .935 save percentage, a 1.59 goals-against average, and one shutout. Sorokin has never played a game vs. the Capitals in his NHL career.
By Harrison Brown