No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders
Capitals: 1-1-1 in round-robin; 41-20-8, .652 points percentage in regular season
Islanders: 3-1 to win qualifier series against Florida Panthers; 35-23-10, .588 points percentage in regular season
Season series: WSH 2-2-0; NYI 2-2-0
While the showdown between Barry Trotz, the New York Islanders coach, and his former team, the Washington Capitals, will be one of the main storylines, everything about this series should be interesting.
Todd Reirden, who took over after Trotz joined the Islanders two weeks after the Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup, learned much while an assistant with Trotz in Washington. The Capitals and the Islanders each play a defensively responsible game that keeps opponents from freely generating offense.
“Both teams are well equipped to go at each other,” said Trotz, who coached the Capitals from 2014-18. “But I think both teams, that group has a lot of pedigree. They’ve got a lot of star power and they’ve won a championship. “They’re well equipped in a lot of areas, so the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard, and they’ll do the same because I know a lot about that team.”
The Capitals struggled in the round-robin, defeating the Boston Bruins on Sunday, but losing to the Philadelphia Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning and scoring five goals in the three games. Defenseman Radko Gudas led them in scoring with two points (assists) and Alex Ovechkin did not have a point.
Defenseman John Carlson, a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman, did not play in the round-robin after sustaining an injury in an exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes on July 29. His status for Game 1 is unknown.
“It’ll be interesting, for sure,” forward Tom Wilson said Sunday. “Went through a fun time with those guys and it’s a similar time of year. It may be a bit of a chess match but we’re confident with our group. We’re going over a lot of video, a lot of details to be ready, and sometimes you have to adjust on the go. We’re confident, we’re excited. It’ll be different, but it’ll be fun, for sure.”
This is the eighth playoff series between them. New York is 5-2, Washington won the most recent, in seven games in the 2015 Eastern Conference First Round.
Capitals: Ovechkin didn’t get to 50 goals this season, but he was outstanding nevertheless, with 67 points (48 goals, 19 assists) in 68 games. The forward drew rave reviews from teammates and Reirden for how he looked in training camp and after scoring two goals in the exhibition game against Carolina, but he did not score in the round-robin, and Washington needs his offense.
Islanders: Forward Anthony Beauvillier thrived on a line with Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, scoring five points (three goals, two assists) in four games against the Panthers. Two of his goals were game-winners, and he also gave New York’s special teams a boost with one power-play goal.
Capitals: Braden Holtby played all three round-robin games (1-1-1, 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage) and will be counted upon for as long as Washington is alive, with backup Ilya Samsonov ruled unfit to play at the start of training camp. Holtby went 16-7 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .922 save percentage when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Islanders: Semyon Varlamov was solid against the Panthers, his first appearance in the postseason since 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche. He finished the series with a 1.77 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
Numbers to know
Capitals: Holtby is 16-6-3 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 27 career regular-season games against the Islanders.
Islanders: The top line of Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle combined to score three goals in four games against the Panthers. Lee, who scored 20 during the regular season, did not score in the series, but the line was stifling defensively, not allowing an even-strength goal.
Capitals: Brenden Dillon‘s time with Washington, which acquired the defenseman from the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18, had barely begun when the season was paused, but he felt better after training camp in July, and that comfort level should translate into solid on-ice play in the first round. Dillon had 14 points (goal, 13 assists) in 59 games with the Sharks and zero points in 10 games with the Capitals during the season.
Islanders: Eberle continues to show he’s more than capable of playing on the big stage; evidenced again by the three points (two goals, one assist) he scored against the Panthers. He has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 12 postseason games with New York after having two assists in 13 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2017.
They said it
“Obviously we know quite a bit about them. They won’t back down, they’ll work every second of every game. If we outwork them or match their work ethic we know we’ll have success. It’s going to be a hard series, a fun series, and it’s going to make for some really good hockey. Now it’s up to us to make sure we’re mentally committed. Everyone on our team has to be ready for that.” — Capitals goalie Braden Holtby
“We all know as a group the style of our play isn’t flashy, but we trust and believe in one another. Every line can go out there and contribute 5-on-5 and is also responsible defensively, kind of, against anybody on the other side. I think everybody has confidence from [coach] Barry [Trotz] and the guys, and guys rely on each other to get the job done.” — Islanders center Brock Nelson
Will win if …
Capitals: Their top players get going/are healthy. Ovechkin had no points in three round-robin games. T.J. Oshie got his first postseason point (goal) against Boston on Sunday. Forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom have a combined two points in three games. Carlson, Washington’s leading scorer with 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists) in the regular season, is questionable for Game 1.
Islanders: They continue to play to their identity and limit quality scoring chances against at even strength. The impact defenseman Adam Pelech made in his return from an Achilles injury was evident from the start of the series against Florida, and the depth shined through when Andy Greene replaced Johnny Boychuk on defense after Boychuk was injured in Game 1.
Capitals projected lineup
Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana — Nicklas Backstrom — T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin — Travis Boyd — Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik — Nic Dowd — Garnet Hathaway
Michal Kempny — John Carlson
Brenden Dillon — Dmitry Orlov
Jonas Siegenthaler — Nick Jensen
Scratched: Lars Eller, Philippe Maillet, Beck Malenstyn, Connor McMichael, Brian Pinho, Daniel Sprong, Alexander Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Tyler Lewington, Pheonix Copley
Unfit to play: None
Islanders projected lineup
Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey
Derick Brassard — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Leo Komarov
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews — Scott Mayfield
Nick Leddy — Andy Greene
Scratched: Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Otto Koivula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Andrew Ladd, Sebastian Aho, Noah Dobson, Thomas Hickey, Christopher Gibson
Unfit to play: Johnny Boychuk
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers and deputy managing editor Brian Compton contributed to this report