They always say goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey, and Thursday night’s Caps-Islanders game proves that axiom.
Lars Eller scored two goals and added an assist as Washington’s third line was dominant all evening and Braden Holtby stopped 35 of 38 shots, many of them of the high danger variety, to give the Capitals a much needed 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena.
The Isles outplayed the Caps quite a bit in this one, outshot attempting the home squad, 72-48, including 38-19 in shots on goal for the game and 16-2 in the third period. Jaroslav Halak, however, was a sieve for New York in net while the Holtbeast bailed out numerous Caps turnovers and soft plays in this affair.
The triumph puts Washington back to .500 at 6-6-1 (13 points) and improves their home record to 2-3.
Here are eight thoughts on this ugly win.
- Chandler Stephenson, Eller, and Tom Wilson were the best line on the ice for the Caps. Not only did they score three times (Taylor Chorney scored the Caps 1st goal from the point with Willy parked in front of the net), they drew two penalties. Washington really needed some production from the bottom six and the third line delivered.
- Alex Chiasson hasn’t had much production in his short time with the Caps, but he did do something only a few guys were doing on Thursday night, he shot the puck. #39 had two of the Capitals 19 shots on goal (Eller had three) and his second period laser just 12 seconds after Anders Lee had knotted the game, gave Washington a one puck lead heading into the final frame. Chiasson still has a lot of work to do to deserve to stay in the lineup, most notably, he needs to be quicker and also do a better job of winning board battles. He’s basically playing right now due to injuries to Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky.
- Did I mention that Halak stunk tonight? I guess the Caps top six didn’t get that memo because they repeatedly over passed all game. This was not smart hockey. One time the Caps had a three on one break and didn’t even get off a shot on goal. This over passing pattern needs to cease and desist and it’s the top guys who are most guilty. Simplify your game and get the puck on net, especially when the opposing goalie doesn’t appear to be able to stop a beach ball! Halak gave up four goals on 19 shots. He was horrendous and cost his team the game.
- Speaking of not playing smart hockey, Washington was whistled for another too many men on the ice penalty and it took the Islanders just 21 seconds to tie the game at two. How does this keep happening this season? The coaches and players better figure out the line changes fast or people are going to lose their jobs over that type of brain dead hockey.
- In honor of Halloween, the Caps special teams should be featured on Count Floyd’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre this week with Alan May filling in for the great Joe Flaherty. The power play was a train wreck with soft perimeter passing that the Islanders easily exploited with hard work. The best chance on the Capitals four power plays was a Casey Cizikas shorthanded breakaway that the Holtbeast fortunately gobbled up. Washington’s penalty killing unit continued to underwhelm going two for four. On the first Isles power play tally John Carlson doesn’t cover one of the hottest goal scorers in the league, John Tavares, off of the faceoff because he gets caught puck watching. #91 is initially denied by the great Holtby in close, but then he deposits the rebound since #74 is slow to arrive. “Scary stuff, Kids!!!” is the best way to sum up the Capitals special teams. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe better fix this mess quickly!
- If tomorrow was Christmas, I’d give Evgeny Kuznetsov a yo-yo because that’s the way his season has gone so far. One night he looks like the best player on the planet (see the Edmonton win) and then some nights he’s just invisible. I don’t think #92 won a single board battle against the Islanders. He looked out to lunch the whole game. It was a pitiful effort and inexcusable for a guy making $7.8M a season. It’s hard for Alex Ovechkin to do what he does best, score, when his center is continually making poor decisions or not working hard enough to get the puck for his team.
- Rookie Madison Bowey was really good again on the back end in 13:25 of ice time. His alert play and drive to the net on Eller’s first goal was just smart and talented hockey. Even though Lee scored the Islanders third goal with #22 covering him, he still played very well and was another reason the Caps had a chance in this affair. That Islanders third goal was primarily on the bad icing by Dmitry Orlov and then Kuznetsov losing a key defensive zone draw. When Matt Niskanen returns from injury, Bowey better not be the guy sent back to Hershey, he has proven to be a very solid right handed blue liner and he has four assists in eight games. I like a Niskanen-Carlson-Bowey right side of the ice on defense.
- A guy who takes a lot of abuse from the over Corsi focused crowd, but is playing some outstanding hockey is Brooks Orpik. With Niskanen out, #44 has really stepped up and he logged 24:33 of ice time and was +2 in this one. The 37 year old is in outstanding shape and is playing far more minutes than normal, but he’s getting it done. With the erratic play of Orlov since Niskanen went out injured and rookie Christian Djoos’ defensive zone weaknesses, Coach Trotz has turned to “Batya” to stabilize the back end and he’s done just that.
Overall, the Capitals should be thankful that Holtby was superb and Halak was a hunk of swiss cheese in this game because the Caps were outworked and probably deserved to lose.
There are a lot of things that need fixing in the Capitals game and it starts with effort from some of the top guys. Special teams are on the list shortly thereafter. They are 3-5 without Niskanen and it’s not clear, at this time, if he’ll be able to return next Tuesday in Buffalo when he’s eligible to come off of long term injured reserve. Matt’s absence is putting pressure on the team’s depleted depth that took a big hit with the expansion draft and the salary cap restrictions. They are 0-3 in back to back games and they will do that again next week when they face Arizona on Monday and then the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Before that happens, though, they’ll face Boston in Beantown on Saturday night.
Those three squads aren’t exactly world beaters, but neither are the Capitals the way they are playing right now. More guys need to get dialed in and work harder and smarter, otherwise the teams in their division will start pulling away in the standings.
There is definitely room for concern with this club right now, and it isn’t all due to a reduced level of talent, there is plenty of it there to win games.
They are very lucky, right now, to have an all world goalie in Holtby, because he was the difference on Thursday night.
All hail the Holtbeast!
Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:28…Ovechkin had only six shot attempts and just two shots on goal. A winger needs his center to get him the puck. Kuzy didn’t do that on Thursday…Chorney scored a goal, but took a bad penalty in the third period. He only played 12:16, lowest of all Caps defensemen…the Caps were at least good overall in face-offs going 32-20. Eller was 9-3. Kuznetsov was 8-3, but had the costly lost draw after an icing in the final frame that led to the Islanders third goal…Devante Smith-Pelly had four hits and Wilson had three, one of #43’s was a neutral zone doozy…Stephenson had two assists, including a “Backstrom-esque” feed on Eller’s first goal.