The First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins August 11. Before the NHL postseason resumes play, PHT will preview each of the eight opening round matchups, including Capitals – Islanders.
1. Barry Trotz vs. the Capitals team he won a Stanley Cup with not that long ago
You know, Trotz leaving the Capitals for the Islanders should be a stranger story than it ended up feeling like. You don’t see a coach just up and leave after winning a Stanley Cup, at least when that coach isn’t Mike Keenan. (Trotz gave a heartfelt speech to his former Capitals once he joined the Islanders, so you have to think there aren’t too many hard feelings … at least with the players.)
That’s likely because the Capitals kept performing (at least during the regular season), and the Islanders immediately prospered under Trotz. But this series gives that narrative a chance to get juicy again.
Does Trotz have any added insight against his former team? Maybe some ways to slow down Alex Ovechkin from his office? (Even if, you know, some wonder if an excessive reliance on that might actually slow down the Capitals’ power play, anyway?)
2. “Pupil vs. Teacher”
Few sports teams enact succession plans quite like the Capitals. When they moved on from George McPhee as GM, they promoted from within, and Brian MacLellan has largely been a smash success in the GM job. Then, seemingly sticking with a decision made before Trotz won a Stanley Cup, the Capitals passed the torch/decided to save a few bucks by promoting Todd Reirden.
Was it the right choice? That will come into focus in this series, as the Capitals had a strong 2018-19 season before losing in the First Round to the Hurricanes. If the Capitals follow another strong regular season with another early exit, Reirden might start hearing about how he couldn’t get it done, unlike Trotz before him.
(Even if critics might omit the disappoints Trotz and the Capitals endured before getting that ultimate prize.)
3. Holtby-or-bust vs. two capable Islanders goalies
Heading out of the pause, the Capitals seemed to have choices between possible goalie of the future (Ilya Samsonov) and maybe one who will be part of the past because of free agency (Braden Holtby). Those paying attention might’ve wondered if Samsonov would be the better choice after a superior regular season. Then Samsonov got hurt and likely removed that drama.
Now we set the stage for another bit of drama: as a pending UFA, Holtby has a massive amount of money on the line hoping for another big run. Meanwhile, the Islanders boast two steady goalie options in Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss.
It’s possible Holtby might outplay them. While those two haven’t experienced playoff hockey much at all/in the last few years, Holtby’s playoff resume is pretty incredible. But, with all due respect to Vitek Vanecek, there’s a lot of pressure on Holtby.
4. What pushes one team PDOver-the-top?
Interestingly, both the Capitals and Islanders (at least the Trotz Islanders) tend to be teams that outperform sometimes-modest underlying stats. These things can vary, but the Capitals sometimes out-shoot their scoring expectations, which you can attribute to Alex Ovechkin and other snipers. Meanwhile, the Islanders have received goaltending even stronger than one would expect (that was especially true last season, yet holds some water from 2019-20, too).
Will the Capitals ride hot shooting? Can Trotz, Mitch Korn, and the Islanders slow down Ovechkin and the Capitals while Mathew Barzal helps the Isles counterpunch their way to enough knockouts? Maybe this series will be more high-scoring than you’d expect and Trotz might want?
5. Prediction: Capitals in 7
With John Carlson possibly injured, an already-pesky Islanders opponent could be a nightmare. It’s no secret that Trotz can scheme a star out of series, as we saw his Islanders smother the Penguins during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And with certain signs of decline in not just Ovechkin, but other veteran Capitals, the talent edge might be minimal.
Yet, these Capitals tend to find ways to make things worse. And, frankly, when in doubt, go with prominent players with the most money to lose. Ovechkin could sign an extension this offseason, and Holtby is a pending UFA whose pay could vary wildly. Meanwhile, Barzal and others present cap headaches, but his earning ceiling is limited by RFA status.
(Yes, splitting hairs like this is another way to indicate this could be close.)
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Wednesday, Aug. 12: NY Islanders at Washington, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD