The Caps finish up another two-game mini-trip with the second half of a back-to-back set of games, this one against the New York Islanders in the ancient confines of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a building that seems to have been imported concrete block by concrete block from the school of Soviet architecture, circa 1962.
Its days as “Fort Neverlose” a relic of the dim past, the Coliseum is now home to a team that has not finished above .500 in the last five years, hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since 2007, and hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993. Since winning their fourth Stanley Cup in 1983, the Isles are 881-1025 with an additional 194 ties and 76 overtime losses.
This edition of the Islanders got off to a nice start, winning three of their first four games with excellent goaltending from Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. The nice start masked some serious problems, though, most notably that they couldn’t find the opponent’s net with a map, a flashlight, and a blinking neon sign over it saying “SHOOT THE PUCK HERE.” The Isles have lost their last six games (0-4-2), have not scored more than two goals in any of those games, and have been shut out twice in their last four games.
On top of all that, a proposal to replace the Nassau Coliseum was rejected by Nassau County voters in August, introducing a murkiness with respect to their future on Long Island. For what they have endured over the past quarter century, Islander fans need not be pitied – they have the memories of those four Stanley Cups – but they certainly deserve respect for sticking with a team that seems intent on making the hockey “experience” as gruesome as possible. Here is how the two teams stack up heading into this game…
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1. John Tavares has seven goals; the rest of the team has 11. The Isles have only four players with more than two even strength goals, and Tavares is the only one with as many as three. The trouble is Tavares had five goals in his first four games, only two in six games since. The Islanders have a total of 11 even strength goals in ten games, only two in their last five games. By way of comparison, the Caps have 31 even strength goals. No Islander team in 39 seasons has scored fewer goals through ten games than this one. No team this season has been shut out more often.
2. If nothing else, the Islanders are disciplined. They are averaging only 9.9 minutes of penalty minutes per game (ranked sixth) and have taken only 40 minor penalties (ranked fourth).
3. The Islanders rank dead last in the league in hits (they rank dead last in a number of things, it seems) with 189, and Matt Martin has 49 of them. Think that’s a lot? Well, yeah, when you consider that the Caps’ biggest hitter so far – Troy Brouwer, a player known for that aspect of the game – has 43. The flip side of that is that the other 19 skaters to have taken the ice for the Islanders so far this season have a total of 140 hits (about seven per player).
4. It hardly seems to matter for the Islanders whether they put up a lot of shots or struggle to get shots on goal. In five games they recorded more than 30 shots and in those games scored a total of 11 goals (nine of them coming in two of those games). In three games they were held to fewer than 20 shots on goal and scored a total of five goals. They have been outscored 19-7 on their current 0-4-2 run.
5. Josh Bailey is one of the young Islanders (22 years old) considered to have promise with this team. In his first three years he averaged 11 goals and 29 points. Not bad for a youngster on a team trying to get its footing with a lot of young players. But here is a shocking number concerning Bailey – zero. He has been on ice for 138 minutes so far this season and has not been on ice for any goal scored by the Islanders.
1. The Caps have 17 different goal scorers, most in the NHL so far. But they have no player with more than five, which speaks to the balance through the roster as far as goal-scoring.
2. Last season the Caps had a troubling tendency to fall behind in games, allowing the first goal in 47 of 82 games. They are up to their old hijinks. Seven times in 11 games the Caps allowed the first goal, posting a record of 6-1-0 in those games. They come into this game having allowed the first goal in their last three games.
3. Something to watch for…if the fourth line for the Caps is Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mike Knuble, that trio is a combined 20-27-47 over their respective careers against the Islanders spanning 101 man games. And Halpern and Knuble account for 19 of the goals in 96 career games. Not bad for a “fourth line.”
4. Only two teams have scored more third period goals than have the Caps so far (17), and those teams – Ottawa and Philadelphia – have played more games (14 and 13, respectively, compared to the Caps’ 11).
5. All or nothing. The Caps have nine wins so far this season, and they have been either nail-biters or blowouts. Five one-goal wins, four wins of three or more goals. No team has as many three-plus goal wins.
The Peerless’ Player to Ponder
New York: Kyle Okposo
Another Islander with the shocking number of “zero” – goals, that is. Kyle Okposo has skated more than 161 minutes in ten games and has yet to record a goal. He missed 44 games last year after shoulder surgery, and he clearly is not yet right. He finished last season with five goals in 38 games and has that goose egg so far this season. He hasn’t had a goal in his last 18 games and has one in his last 27. The injury serves as a bright line for Okposo in this respect. In 154 career games before the injury he scored 39 goals and averaged 2.79 shots per game. Since the injury he has five goals in 48 games and averaged 1.92 shots per game (2.00 per game so far this season). If he is going to break out, it could be against the Caps. He has five goals in eight career games against Washington.
Washington: Jason Chimera
Jason Chimera doesn’t have the highest career scoring total among Capitals against this team, but he does have five goals in 12 career games against the Islanders. Chimera started fast with four goals in his first five games, but the red light has remained dark for him over his last six games (he does have three assists in his last four games). There is a Jekyll and Hyde character to his game so far. At home he is 4-2-6, plus-7 in six games. On the road he is 0-1-1, minus-1 in five games.
1. It’s not first to “one.” The Islanders have played teams close in the first 20 minutes, scoring first in five of ten games and outscoring teams 9-8 in the first period. But in the last 40 minutes of games the Islanders have scored a total of nine goals. The Caps have scored 30 goals in the last 40 minutes of games. In this six-game losing streak the Islanders have one third period goal. The Caps have allowed only 16 goals in the last 40 minutes of their 11 games so far.
2. Don’t be stupid. Only twice in ten games have the Islanders had the pleasure of five or more power plays. Only one team has had fewer power play chances. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the Islanders have had a lack of chances (and, by extension, lack of production) on the power play and find themselves in 14th place spot in the East. Stay out of the box.
3. Watch the undercard. For the Islanders at the moment, the “undercard” is pretty much anyone not named “Tavares.” John Tavares has had a hand in 11 of the 18 goals the Islanders have scored, meaning that the other 17 skaters, whoever they might be, have displayed little offensive threat. That makes it important that the Caps clamp down even harder on that group. Tavares might get a point or two, but he can’t beat the Caps by himself.
In the end, not even the fact that this is the second of a road-road, back-to-back set of games provides an excuse for the Caps dropping a decision to the Islanders. The Caps – 11-0-3 in their last 14 games against the Islanders dating back to December 2007 – are facing a team not playing well on offense, and its defense and goaltending (allowing three or more goals in five of the last six games) has not been enough to stem the tide of losing. The Caps made their life a bit easier by putting the Friday night game against Carolina away early in the third period, allowing them to distribute ice time more evenly and keep players fresh. That should be more than enough to add a seventh straight loss to the Islanders’ current streak.
Caps 5 – Islanders 2