Things looked dire for the Washington Capitals more than once in Game 2 against the New York Islanders on Friday night. They kept grinding away, though, and their reward is a 4-3 win and a 1-1 series tie.
There were times when one wondered if Braden Holtby’s sick day might cost the Capitals big-time. Philipp Grubauer allowed three goals on a modest 21 shots for the Isles, but most importantly, he stopped all seven in the third period.
New York generated 2-0 and 3-1 leads that may or may not have instilled a false sense of security.
Ultimately, the Capitals’ biggest names made the difference. Alex Ovechkin notched a sigh-of-relief goal to close the gap to within one while Nicklas Backstrom’s three-point night included a nifty bit of one-against-all:
During about a 12-minute span from late in the second period to midway through the third, the Capitals scored three unanswered goals to turn the game on its head.
Most hockey fans know that Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom is an All-Star-caliber player even though he’s never made such a team. Sometimes he needs to remind others why people hammer on that point.
The versatile Swede already has a goal and two assists in Game 2 for the Capitals, including this 3-3 goal in which he stupefied the New York Islanders’ penalty killers:
Yep, that’s pretty impressive.
Isles impress, take 1-0 series lead against Capitals
Five years ago, Jaroslav Halak frustrated the Washington Capitals to a stunning first-round loss. He has a lot more help this time around with the 2014-15 New York Islanders, yet you can forgive some Caps fans if Wednesday brought back bad memories.
The Islanders topped the Capitals 4-1 to take a 1-0 series lead, and while Brock Nelson’s second goal inflated the difference in the form of an empty-netter, the Islanders looked awfully impressive.
The Islanders didn’t really see their play drop off much, even when they had a comfortable lead. That has to be a wake-up call for Washington, and perhaps a message to the rest of the East: a team that looked like a powerhouse may not be slumping as much as some think.
It’s hard to imagine Alex Ovechkin being kept off the scoreboard every night, mind you, although it will be interesting to see if Barry Trotz continues to try to get balanced offense by splitting him from common running mate Nicklas Backstrom.
The two teams meet again for Game 2 at the Verizon Center on Friday, so the Caps need to shake off this setback or they’ll be in quite the early hole.
#Isles win 4-1. Just about perfect road game, helped greatly by Caps playing a bit disinterested.
Around this time in 2014, Alex Ovechkin experienced a season so rotten his hair literally turned gray. The Caps missed the playoffs, people obsessed over his plus/minus rating and the Russian Olympic hockey team crashed and burned in Sochi.
Some paint Barry Trotz as the wizard who finally got Ovechkin to play along. Others say No. 8’s scoring stats really aren’t that different from 2013-14. Wherever you land in that specific argument, the tenor is far more positive regarding the Ovechkin this year than it was the last.
Much of sports writing revolves around praising or lambasting a star player when his team wins or loses — yet the dirty secret is that success or failure often boils down to the supporting cast.
So the biggest reason why this might be Ovechkin’s year isn’t because he stopped “gliding.” It’s because the Caps are the most competent and stable they’ve been since the happy days of the Bruce Boudreau era.
“This is a different team compared to the last couple years,” Ovechkin said, per CSN Washington. “A mature team, an experienced team.
“It’s a lot different.”
Simply put, Ovi’s getting a lot more help.
Braden Holtby’s put together a borderline Vezina season; while Semyon Varlamov showed flashes of brilliance with Washington, the bottom line is that Holtby’s the best net option the Capitals have had since Ovechkin first put on that goofy eagle sweater.
The Capitals also invested big-time in their defense this offseason, and it’s paid off. Matt Niskanen is starting to feel it, with 11 of his 31 points pouring in since March. John Carlson’s enjoying easily the best season of his career, and Mike Green hasn’t been too shabby as he chases a new deal, either.
Washington’s offense isn’t as explosive as it once was, yet there’s reason to think that they can survive a slow night or two from their big guns. Ten different players scored at least 10 goals this year; 17 skaters scored at least 17 points. Marcus Johansson found the back of the net a career-high 20 times, and Troy Brouwer tied a personal best with 43 points.
Caps GM Brian McLellan says the club’s secondary scoring behind Ovechkin (and Nicklas Backstrom) could be vital for a successful Cup run.
“That’s going to be the key, I think, to winning a lot of the games,” he said, per CSN Washington. “Goals scored by third and fourth line guys at the right moment. A rebound goal, a traffic goal. I don’t think it’s total numbers, I think it’s more impact goals than it is anything else for those guys.
“We’re going to need all those guys to chip in – [Jason] Chimera, [Joel] Ward, Brooks Laich, [Curtis] Glencross – we’re going to need big goals from those guys to be successful.”
Overall, the Capitals have the most forward depth, best goalie and best defensive group since Ovechkin came to DC. They also have an experienced head coach in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Will that be enough for Ovechkin to finally break through at the team level after all those years of frustration? A lot of things can happen in the postseason, obviously, but it’s been a long time since Ovechkin’s outlook was this optimistic.