The Washington Capitals conclude their back-to-back slate with a Saturday night showdown against the New York Islanders. Washington is coming off a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Here are the projected lines:
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Sonny Milano – Dylan Strome – T.J. Oshie
Aliaksei Protas – Connor McMichael – Matthew Phillips
Beck Malenstyn – Nic Dowd – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Alex Alexeyev – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Nick Jensen
Hardy Häman Aktell – Lucas Johansen
The Caps got out to a 3-0 lead for the second time this season, the first also occurring against New Jersey. Though the Devils brought the game to a one goal deficit, the Capitals did not let the game completely boil over like they did in the first meeting.
“I think it’s sometimes natural to be up 3-0 and then you kind of maybe take your foot off the gas a little bit. And again, you got to credit New Jersey because that’s a really good, fast, skilled team,” Capitals goaltender Charlie Lindgren said following his 24-save performance. “Hockey is about not getting too high and not getting too low and I think this game is a perfect example of that.”
The Capitals’ fourth line composed of Beck Malenstyn, Nic Dowd and Nicolas Aube-Kubel was outstanding against the Devils. Aube-Kubel, who was fresh from a call up from the Hershey Bears on Friday morning, got the game’s first goal on a one-time bid.
15 seconds later, Malenstyn made it 2-0 off a perfectly placed snapshot, which forced Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek out of the game.
“That’s where I felt like tonight we get the first time this year we had sort of our natural, quote-on-quote fourth line with [Malenstyn], real identity, Aube-Kubel and [Dowd] and quite frankly the way that potentially we saw it in a lot of different scenarios from the summer of what our fourth line would look like,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said after the win.
Prior to Friday night, Dowd had not played since Oct. 16 against the Calgary Flames. He was a plus-1 and had a team leading four hits. He was also 63.2% in the faceoff dot winning 12 draws.
“He’s a stabilizer of essentially almost the bottom six in general because you can deploy him [in any situation],” Carbery said.
Washington’s top line finally came to play. Evgeny Kuznetsov was reunited on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson and it paid off. Kuznetsov had two goals in Friday’s win against New Jersey and now has seven points (three goals, four assists) on the campaign.
Though Ovechkin still does not have a goal in his last six games now, he finally had a point to his name, for the first time in three contests, with the secondary assist on Kuznetsov’s first goal. Wilson had apples on both of No. 92’s goals.
“I just saw Tom is gonna beat [the Devils defenseman] for sure and I was just trying to get open for him, give him that option and he passed it perfect, was right on my tape and I thought the goalie was right there so it was an open net for me,” Kuznetsov said of his first goal.
Second periods had been a struggle for the Capitals all season long, however Friday was a small step in overall defensive zone structure and second period play.
“I thought we were way more mature protecting the lead and doing things with the puck and making decisions that were intelligent and mature,” Carbery said. “We did have some dicey turnovers late in the second period that I did not like. Especially with us having talked about that and stressed the importance of it, it was a good response.”
Scouting New York
This is the second time that these two Metropolitan Division rivals will be battling this season.
The Islanders (5-4-3) defeated the Caps 3-0 back on Nov. 2 at Capital One Arena. New York scored three goals on six shots and Washington could not get anything past Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
New York has dropped its last three contests, falling most recently to the Boston Bruins, 5-2. The Islanders have struggled to put the puck in the back of the net, ranking 29th in the NHL with 2.58 goals per game, two spots ahead of the Caps.
Defenseman Noah Dobson leads the Islanders with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 12 games and is on a three-game point streak.
Ilya Sorokin is projected to be the starter for New York. Sorokin is 3-2-3 on the season with a 3.24 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Player To Watch
Brock Nelson had two points (one goal, one assist) against the Capitals back in October and had a goal in the loss against Boston.
Puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m. at UBS Arena. The game can be streamed on Monumental Sports Network.
By Jacob Cheris