With both teams coming off consecutive wins, the Washington Capitals face the New York Islanders at home. Tonight’s meeting is the first of four between the two Metropolitan Division rivals, who are looking to extend their two-game win streaks.
The Caps have secured their past two wins without Alex Ovechkin, who is set to return tonight. Following a 7-0 road win (or perhaps rout is the better word) over the Philadelphia Flyers and a home shootout win over the Florida Panthers, Washington is aiming for another two points, though that will be harder to achieve against the Isles.
The Islanders currently sit one points above the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division, with the teams posting fifteen and fourteen points respectively. Forward Kyle Okposo leads the Islanders with seventeen points in fourteen games, while Frans Nielsen’s eight goals are good for ninth in the league and first on his team. As we noted earlier, the Isles have offensive juggernauts in captain John Tavares and new acquisition Thomas Vanek. The Capitals’ defensemen must be prepared to play shutdown style of defense that’s long eluded them, though a Mike Green goal or two certainly couldn’t hurt.
On the topic of offense, it should be noted that Adam Oates has altered his lines yet again, this time making dramatic changes to his top six. Notably, Martin Erat is now playing on the left wing with Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin. Marcus Johansson is back on the second line in his natural center position, thus bumping Brooks Laich back to the left wing. Michael Latta will continue to play alongside Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson.
How will these lines affect the outcome of the game? For starters (no pun intended), Ovechkin is returning from a shoulder injury. Caps fans will expect him to light the lamp against Isles netminder Evgeni Nabokov, anyway. Nabokov currently posts a .903 save percentage in comparison to the .921 of Washington starter Braden Holtby.
The first line must develop chemistry, and if they’re successful, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t rack up a few points. Erat, Backstrom, and Ovechkin are all top-six capable forwards, especially on the power play. The Isles’ power play is ranked seventh, which is barely behind the Capitals’ fourth in the NHL. However, with the second-best penalty kill in the league, the Caps shouldn’t have too much of an issue killing off penalties.
With that being said (and it’s been said all season), the Capitals cannot rely strictly on their special teams to carry them to a win. In the absence of Ovechkin, we saw varied displays of excellent offense exemplified by Joel Ward’s hat trick. Washington must continue to improve its even-strength scoring, and working on puck possession is a great way to start.
But let’s not forget defense. The pairings are expected to remain the same, but the Caps can’t afford a weak defense, especially against a strong offensive team like the Islanders. If they can apply the effectiveness of their PK to regular five-on-five defense, they should be just fine.