February 18 – Day 126 – Islander Wars, Episode II: Return of the Caps

New York beat Chicago in the first game of the season.  Chicago finally got the opportunity to return the favor, and capitalized on it, winning 5-3.

It didn’t take long before Chicago had their first goal, courtesy of Andrew Desjardins at the 3:30 mark.  His tip-in was assisted by Second Star of the Game Teuvo Teravainen and Niklas Hjalmarsson (his 16th helper of the season).  That goal was the only one of the period, so the Hawks took their lead into the dressing room.

At the 10:05 mark of the second, Chicago struck again with a power play wrister from First Star Artemi Panarin (his 20th tally of the season), assisted by Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rozsival.  New York finally got on the board 3:40 later with a wrister from Third Star Kevin Hayes, assisted by Oscar Lindberg’s 12th helper of the season.  The Hawks‘ 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.

The Blueshirts leveled the score only 24 seconds after resuming play, courtesy of a Derick Brassard power play snapper, assisted by Keith Yandle (his 28th helper of the season) and Chris Kreider.  They followed that goal 1:53 later with a Dan Boyle slap shot, assisted by Hayes (his 17th helper of the season) and J.T. Miller.  The Blackhawks took offense to New York‘s goal streak, so they went on one of their own, thanks in large part to two Rangers penalties.  The first of those two power play goals occurred at the 9:53 mark, courtesy of an Andrew Shaw slap shot, who was assisted by Teravainen and Jonathan Toews (his 21st helper of the season) to level the game at three-all.  The Hawks broke the tie with only three minutes remaining in regulation on another power play.  Panarin scored his second of the night, assisted by Patrick Kane (his 49th helper of the season) and Brent Seabrook.  The final goal of the game came 1:49 later when Duncan Keith earned his 30th helper of the season with the assist on Panarin’s first professional hat trick-completing tally, which set the score at the 5-3 final.

Corey Crawford earns the win, saving 31 of 34 (91.2%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the loss after saving 15 of 19 (78.9%).

The Game of the Day series now stands at 56-29-11, favoring the home squad by 33 points over the roadies.

This Thursday, we have a busy schedule, with 11 games on the docket.  First up are the two games that start at 7 p.m. eastern (Washington at the New York Islanders and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NBCSN]), followed half an hour later by four more (the New York Rangers at Toronto, Carolina at Ottawa, Winnipeg at Tampa Bay and San Jose at Florida).  8 p.m. eastern brings with it a couple more games (Los Angeles at St. Louis and Boston at Nashville), followed 60 minutes later by another pair (Minnesota at Edmonton and Dallas at Arizona).  The final game of the night is Anaheim at Vancouver, which drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern.

Washington at New York and Anaheim at Vancouver represent the only two divisional rivalries taking place this evening, and five are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Washington at New York, Detroit at Pittsburgh, San Jose at Florida, Los Angeles at St. Louis and Boston at Nashville).  Washington at New York is also a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, we try to go with games that qualify for most or all of those groups.  WashingtonNew York is in all three, and selfishly, it’s been awhile since we’ve featured either squad, so let’s hop on the B Train and head to the Barcalays Center!

Washington Capitals LogoNew York Islanders LogoTonight’s game will be Washington‘s 12th in the series, where they currently own a 8-3-0 record.  Their most recent showing under our focus was February 6, when they visited New Jersey and won 3-2 in the shootout.  New York hasn’t been featured since their February 4 trip to Washington, where they fell 3-2 in their fourth featured game, dropping their record in the series to 1-3-0.

The 41-10-4 Washington Capitals are currently the best team in the NHL by a five-point margin.  They’ve earned that position honestly, as they sport the best defense backed by only the second-best offense.

Thanks in part to Karl Alzner’s team-leading 143 blocks, the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 1598 shots to reach 35-6-3 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.6% for only 126 goals against, fewest in the league.  Although they don’t own the top penalty kill, Washington‘s special team is still a force to be reckoned with, as it’s killed 83.91% of penalties for only 28 power play goals against, fifth-best in the league.

Washington‘s offense is second-rate only in the literal sense that it is second-best in the league in goals scored (184, led by Alex Ovechkin’s 35 tallies).  Ovechkin, with his 276 shots, has also led his squad to 1675 attempts, of which a whopping 10.8% find the back of the net.  The success continues to the power play, where the Caps rank number one with their 23.7% success rate that has provided them 41 extra-man goals (led by Ovechkin’s 14).

At this point, Washington is most concerned with clinching the Presidents’ Trophy, as neither the Rangers nor Florida are providing much competition for either the division or conference, respectively.  With a victory tonight to begin a win-streak (they beat the  Kings 3-1 Tuesday), the Capitals expand their lead for home ice back to seven points over Chicago.

The 30-19-6 New York Islanders currently occupy third in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  They’ve made it to that position by playing the eighth-best offense and the ninth-best defense, so they are a very well-rounded team.

Led by John Tavares’ 170 shots, the Isles have fired 1680 attempts, of which 9.3% have found the back of the net for 161 tallies, eighth-most in the league.  That success hasn’t carried over to the power play as much, as their 20.37% success rate, good for 33 goals, ranks only 11th-best in the league.

The defense is right behind, and led by injured Calvin de Haan’s 139 blocks to allow only 1652 shots to reach 16-6-2 Thomas Greiss and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 141 goals against, ninth-fewest in the league.  That success draws almost directly from the second-best penalty kill in the league, as the Isles kill an incredible 86.96% of their penalties for only 21 extra-man goals against.  They also have taken advantage of opportunities well, as they have five short-handed goals to their credit (led by Cal Clutterbuck’s two shorties).

New York most recently played on Monday, beating the Red Wings 4-1.  Should the Islanders manage to turn that win into a streak, they have the opportunity to pull within two points of their Manhattan rivals, but that is also dependent on cooperation from Toronto.  More importantly than that though is avoiding falling out of a division spot, which is possible if they lose and Pittsburgh wins this evening.

Washington currently leads the season series 2-0-0, but the February 4 game was certainly an improvement for the Isles against the Caps, as they fell by only a lone goal instead of three.

These squads also met in last season’s playoffs, where the Caps won in seven games in the first round.  New York has not beaten Washington since Game Six on April 25, and certainly has aspirations of ending that skid.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include New York‘s Greiss (.931 save percentage [second-best in the league] and 2.16 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Alzner (+21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Nicklas Backstrom (53 points [tied for eighth-best in the league] and 36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (35 wins [most in the league], 2.16 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the league] and .926 [seventh-best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+27 [leads the league], 41 assists [third-most in the league] and 57 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Ovechkin (35 goals [leads the league] and +21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]).

Although I think New York is better than their 9-7-1 record in their last 17 games, I don’t really think it matters.  Washington has already started building Donald Trump’s wall, and it’s name is Braden Holtby.  And, when you pair it with Ovechkin’s offense… New York will be lucky to take the Caps to overtime.

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