It’s time for the Islanders to assert themselves against top tier competition. With just nine-games left in the regular season (including this one against the Capitals) the Boys from Long Island need to prove to the rest of the league that they’re ready to build on last season’s trip to the Eastern Conference Final. And in order to do that, the big guns need to live up to the back of their hockey cards — the sooner the better.
However, Saturday night inside Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders looked a half-step behind at the start of the game and routinely played sloppy on defense as they fell to the Alex Ovechkin-less Capitals 6-3.
The first period began with the Islanders touting an impressive shutout streak against the Capitals, having not allowed a regulation or overtime goal to Washington in the last 145:59 played between the two teams.
That lasted exactly 2:33 into the game as the Nassaumen were a step slow early on and Ilya Sorokin was caught napping when Garnet Hathaway entered the Isles zone and flung the puck from the left-wing boards towards the young netminder. Sorokin was slow to react and the puck found the back of the net to put the Capitals up 1-0 early and announce that this was going to be a very different game from the previous several matchups.
Sorokin surely wanted tha goal back and he continued to look a tad shaky in the first several minutes of the game.
8:22 later, Nicklas Backstrom found T.J. Oshie for the Capitals second goal of the period as the Isles defense gave Washington too much space to operate and paid the price for it — 2-0 visitors.
With the Islanders continuing to be out of sorts, the Capitals had a chance to bury the home team early, but John Carlson was called for hooking Casey Cizikas at 14:03 and that looked to be the jolt the Isles needed to start playing better.
On the ensuing power-play, Anthony Beauvillier cleaned up the loose puck through a goalmouth scramble and cut New York’s deficit to 2-1. And from that point on, the Isles began to skate, not quite like themselves, but at least better than they had been.
At the end of the first period, the scoreboard read Capitals 2, Islanders 1; however, Sorokin had started to settle down in the second-half of the period and the tide of the game wasn’t quite as one-sided as it had been.
The second period began with the Islanders looking to reverse their season-long trend of struggling in the middle period. However, it took several shifts before they started to have a little extra jump in their step.
The game started to flow the Isles’ way when Kyle Palmieri had his stick pulled out of his hands by Dmitry Orlov; yet the Referees decided to swallow their whistles. That would have been little more than a footnote if not for Jordan Eberle then getting called for tripping John Carlson moments later to put the Nassaumen on the penalty-kill.
As one-sided as the officiating was, the Isles made the most of the situation when Adam Pelech, not exactly known for his offense, skated through the neutral zone with the puck while on the penalty-kill. Once he got inside the Capitals’ blue line, Pelech wired a blast past Samsonov for the short-handed goal to tie the game at 2-2.
With the Boys from Long Island suddenly back in the game, the Identity Line had a momentary lapse in judgement and left Nic Dowd all alone within their own zone. Dowd ripped a shot top-shelf past Sorokin and re-established Washington’s lead over New York — 3-2.
Just a couple minutes later, Mathew Barzal turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the Capitals went back to work as Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Daniel Sprong in tight to make it 4-2 Capitals. All of a sudden Washington was back in control.
However, the Isles momentarily got back into the game when Orlov was called for holding Palmieri. In a complete deviation from their usual game-plan, the Islanders scored yet another special teams goal — their third of the game — to bring themselves within 4-3.
Barzal stick-handled in the left-wing face-off circle before dishing the puck to Noah Dobson at the point. Dobson fired a shot wide and the puck rebounded off the back boards to J.G. Pageau, who batted the puck out of thin air, baseball-style, for the Isles second power-play goal of the game.
After a season of struggling in the second period and struggling on the power-play, who knew the Boys from Long Island were capable of having that type of period? However, before you get too excited, they still had the third period to play and they entered the final period down 4-3.
The Capitals opened the third period by clogging the neutral zone to prevent the Islanders from getting anything going on offense and then, 7:35 into the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov skated into the right face-off circle and shot the puck through the Islanders and Sorokin to re-establish a two-goal lead for Washington — 5-3. On the goal, Sorokin clearly misread the shot and it was another example of the troubles he was having on this night.
As time wound down and the Islanders continued to play below their capabilities, Daniel Sprong scored his second of the game to make it 6-3 with 5:17 to go; which ended any chance the home team had at making a comeback.
After losing the first two-games of their three-game series with the Capitals, the Islanders have fallen into third-place in the MassMutual Division and need to find a way to correct the mistakes that have been ailing them; namely sloppy defense and inconsistent offense.
These teams will meet one final time on Tuesday and it will be imperative for the Isles to find something between now and then to turn themselves around.
The Isles went 2-for-2 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 22-for-121…Oliver Wahlstrom remained a healthy scratch for the second straight game…The Isles went 1-for-1 on the penalty-kill…Ilya Sorokin made his first career start against the Capitals…Adam Pelech’s second period short-handed goal was the Isles third shorty of the year.
Tuesday April 27th Islanders at Capitals at Capital One Arena at 7pm(EST).