For the better part of two periods in game one against the Capitals on Wednesday, the Islanders didn’t play very well. They did exactly what they didn’t want to do against Washington which was take undisciplined penalties and put the Capitals dangerous power play on the ice too many times. Two of those penalties resulted in a pair of second period T.J. Oshie man-up goals that put the Islanders in a 2-0 hole. But Jordan Eberle scored late in the second and then the Islanders scored three goals in the third to take game one 4-2 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The Islanders were able to shake off a not so good first 39 minutes or so to grab the opener of the best of seven opening round playoff series. The result was good but there’s still plenty of work to do.
“It’s always nice to be up 1-0,” said Islanders forward Mat Barzal who had two assists in the game including a helper on an Anthony Beauvillier goal that gave the Isles a two-goal cushion. “But I think this group knows we’re playing a pretty good hockey team so we can’t get complacent just being up a game or think they’re not going to come out flying the next game. It’s a good feeling being up one but there’s a long way to go.”
The Islanders will now turn their attention to preparing for game two on Friday night and one area that they have to address is staying out of the penalty box. They were able to withstand three Washington power plays in the first period, but the Capitals finally broke the ice in period two. The Islanders were strong five on five and now they just want to limit the amount of opportunities that the Alex Ovechkin led Caps power play has the rest of the series.
“Our team is smart enough to know that you look on the other side there and you have a Hall of Fame and maybe the greatest goal scorer that’s ever played the game,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “You got guys like (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Evgeny) Kuznetsov who are great playmakers. You got (John) Carlson who might win the Norris Trophy this year and you got Oshie who is I think one of the best guys in that diamond on their power play. We don’t want to be on the penalty kill if we can help it. We’ll play five on five with anybody in the league.”
Game 1: Wednesday August 20th…Islanders 4 Capitals 2 (Isles lead 1-0)
Game 2: Friday August 14th…Islanders at Capitals…8pm
Game 3: Sunday August 16th…Capitals at Islanders…Noon
Game 4: Tuesday August 18th…Capitals at Islanders…8pm
Game 5: Thursday August 20th…Islanders at Capitals…TBD (If necessary)
Game 6: Saturday August 22nd…Capitals at Islanders…TBD (If necessary)
Game 7: Sunday August 23rd…Islanders at Capitals…TBD (If necessary)
Now that the Islanders have the lead in the series despite playing the “Islander Way” for basically the final 21 minutes of the game, they have an opportunity to hit control-alt-delete over the next couple of days before they have a chance to play a more complete contest in game two.
“Refocus,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson who assisted on Anders Lee’s game tying goal at :51 of the third period as well as on Josh Bailey’s go-ahead shorthanded tally that proved to be the game-winner. “We’ll take a look on the kill. Try and stay out of the box and limit the opportunities but also when we do have the opportunity, we want to take care of and get the job done. Same thing five on five. Find a way to get a little more attack and raise our level to not dig ourselves that hole.”
The 2015 series between the Islanders and Capitals that Washington won in seven games was a war in every sense of the word and judging from game one, this year’s matchup is going to be the same story. Game one was physical from the outset with Anders Lee getting a penalty for interference that caused Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom to leave the game with an injury. Lee then roughed it up with John Carlson and later in the period, Lee got into a scrap with Tom Wilson but the Islanders Captain knows that his team will have to pick and choose when it’s time to mix it up.
“You just have to keep your composure,” said Lee. “It’s going to be a physical series and they’re going to hit you around and we’re going respond the same way. You just gotta be smart about it and know when to take one and know when to lay off a little bit.”
From what we saw in game one, the Islanders can certainly play a physical game. But if they are going to win the series, they have to play five on five as much as possible and they’re going to have to spend less time in the penalty box. In the qualifying round series, Florida did most of their damage when the Islanders took undisciplined penalties and that was the case as well in the opener against the Capitals. The Islanders can’t make a habit of spending too much time on the PK and digging themselves a hole they may not be able to climb out of on a regular basis.