NHL Playoffs Preview: Islanders vs Capitals

Johnny Boychuk trade rumors

On Wednesday April 15th, 2015, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals will square off in the first game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup. Playoff history runs deep between these two former Patrick Division foes and this will be the first time they meet in the postseason in 22 years.

Season Series
New York Islanders (2-1-1) vs. Washington Capitals (2-0-2) 

The regular season series of four games between the Islanders and Capitals was about even, with the Capitals earning a 2-0-2 record to the Isles 2-1-1.

If it is one thing the Capitals and Islanders pride themselves on, it is playing in your face hockey that leads to mistakes that they can take advantage of. Home ice advantage was big in the regular season, as both teams won their respective home games.

Storyline

The Islanders started off on a tear this season, and seemed as if they would be the team to beat in the Metro division. After faltering down the stretch, they almost came close to missing out on a playoff spot but were able to sneak in at the end.

On the other hand, the Capitals have been a middle of the pack team in the Metro for much of the season, and consistent hockey resulted in them beating out the Islanders for home ice in the first round.

The captains of these teams pride themselves on coming through in the clutch, and that is exactly what they did when they went toe to toe against one another. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin managed to tally five points (four goals) in the four games against New York, where John Tavares notched four points (two goals).

Significant Injuries

Both teams managed to stay relatively healthy during the season, with the major injury involved was to New York’s Kyle Okposo. Okposo was playing great hockey and stood as one of the Isles major players up front. Since coming back from an eye injury, he has yet to recapture the magic he had before being sidelined for a big part of the season, and the Isles will need him in top form if they have any chance to move on.

Certainly, the Islanders have players that can pick up the slack if Okposo has a hit-or-miss series.  John Tavares is bolstered by a secondary unit of players such as Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas and rookie standout Ryan Strome. Defenseman Travis Hamonic has put together a great regular season campaign as well, but after going down with injury in the second to last game of the season, it will be a big blow if he can’t suit up for any games in the early going. Does this serve as a chance for a patient Calvin de Haan to prove his worth?

Keys to the Series

Expect special teams to play a big factor in the outcome of this postseason matchup, as the Capitals enter this series with the top ranked power play unit in the entire league and the Islanders’ power play has been known to let them down at key moments this season.

Ovechkin will need to be at the top of his game. He has had a fantastic regular season so far, silencing critics of his lackadaisical play by putting up 50-goals yet again in a season and winning him the 2015 Maurice Richard trophy. The big trouble for the Caps is that beyond Ovechkin and the top line, secondary scoring comes and goes as it pleases.

Head coach Barry Trotz decided to split up Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to try and distribute the scoring. Ovechkin has been placed with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line and Backstrom has been centering Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johanssen. The moves worked, as the Capitals went 5-1-1 over their last seven games of the season and Ovechkin scored six goals in his last seven games.

Brayden Holtby has been fantastic for the Caps this season, mainly due in part to the tremendous work goalie coach Mitch Korn has done with him. Holtby first raised eyebrows during his first playoff goaltending with the Capitals back in 2012, and he needs to be that and better.

On the Islanders viewpoint, penalties must be taken only when necessary and at a minimum as they do not want to give the Caps’ red-hot man advantage any opportunities to get work done. It goes without saying that Ovechkin is a decent player 5-on-5, but is a man possessed on the Powerplay, where he gets most of his points.

Arguably the best fourth line in hockey resides with the Islanders, made up of Matt Martin, Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. They aren’t shy to throw their bodies around, and always seem to come up with clutch goals when the team needs them the most.

Jaroslav Halak will be the biggest question mark for Jack Capuano’s squad. He has been a big part of the Islanders resurgence in the Metropolitan Division, but faltered greatly down the track in the latter stages of the season. Untimely and uncharacteristic goals have been the majority of what has plagued Halak, and he needs to find his form he had at season’s beginning if New York has a snowball’s chance. What also sets off alarm bells is Halak gave up three-or-more goals in five of his final seven starts.

The defensive aspect of both teams will be interesting to see, as both teams have blueliners who can both hold a lead or score goals. The Capitals have John Carlson, Mike Green and newcomers Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to look to while the Islanders counter with two big acquisitions of their own in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk; two players who both have Stanley Cup rings to their credit.

Series Prediction

Prediction: Capitals in 7

New York Islanders Washington Capitals tale of the tape

 

Peter Rossi

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