- The favored Washington Capitals (-133) and New York Islanders play Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series Wednesday (3 pm ET)
- The Islanders held the Florida Panthers to just three even-strength goals in a three-game sweep in the qualifying round
- Analysis of both teams’ strengths and weaknesses is reviewed below
When the Washington Capitals start their first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders (Wednesday, 3:00 pm ET) neither coach will be confused about what the other is trying to do.
Current Islanders coach Barry Trotz used to coach Washington (2014-18) and current Washington boss Todd Reirden was his associate coach then. According to oddsmakers, the protege is favored to get a leg-up in the series tomorrow.
NY Islanders vs Washington Capitals Game 1 Odds
|Team||Moneyline||Puckline||Total Odds at DraftKings|
|New York Islanders||+115||+1.5 (-238)||O 5.5 (+108)|
|Washington Capitals||-133||-1.5 (+190)||U 5.5 (-133)|
Odds taken August 11.
The Capitals fully appreciate Trotz’s defensive tactics because they helped the Capitals win a Stanley Cup in 2018. But that doesn’t mean they know how to render Trotz’s tactics ineffective. The Capitals have more offensive might than the Islanders. That means this series will be decided by the Islanders’ ability or inability to make Alex Ovechkin and the other top Washington scorers look ordinary.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) August 10, 2020
There’s Nobody in NHL History Like Ovi
It’s possible that Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin may be remembered as the most dangerous scorer in the league’s history. Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record of 894 goals was once considered unbreakable. Now Ovechkin, with 706, has a shot to take it down.
Ovechkin can own a series, and nobody understands that better than Trotz. He probably got more out of Ovechkin than any other coach.
The Islanders had mixed success against Ovechkin this season: The last time the two teams met (Feb. 10) Ovechkin was pointless and owned a plus-minus of -4. However, Ovechkin netted a hat trick against Trotz’s team on Jan. 18. In four games against the Islanders this season, Ovechkin had three goals, one assist and was -1. However, in three of those games, Ovechkin was limited to three or fewer shots.
Look for the Islanders’ strategy to include a concerted effort to deny Ovechkin shots on goal through tighter checking and shot blocking. That’s what the Islanders do best.
Alex Ovechkin from his office: Vol. ∞ pic.twitter.com/96qdt7dS2d
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) July 29, 2020
Scoring Doesn’t Come Easy to the Islanders
The Islanders were ranked 22nd in scoring this season, averaging 2.78 goals per game. By comparison, the Capitals averaged 3,42 goals per game. That’s a significant difference.
Ovechkin scored 48 goals this season, and Brock Nelson led the Islanders with 26 goals. The Islanders only had two players net 20 or more goals. The Capitals owned four. The Islanders are usually described as a team that “scores by committee.” That’s usually code for doesn’t score enough.
This is how you know Barzal is awake today. Pure speed. pic.twitter.com/g3YhZ4GTy4
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) August 7, 2020
But there are other factors to ponder when reviewing the Islanders’ scoring: The Capitals ranked 18th in goals-against, giving up 3.07 per game. After making changes on the blue line, including trading Matt Niskanen, the Capitals weren’t as tight defensively. They gave up an average of 30.2 shots on goal per game.
Also consider: Islanders center Mathew Barzal, 23 is a dynamic presence who is just scratching the surface of his talent. Also, the Islanders seem to score goals at the right time
Braden Holtby vs. Semyon Varlamov
When you consider that Holtby owns a Stanley Cup ring, it would seem like the Capitals should own an advantage in goal. Holtby posted a .925 save percentage in the Capitals’ round-robin games.
Holtby is 30, and he’s expected to have several suitors if he enters free agency this summer.
But before we say the Capitals have better goaltending, let’s consider that Varlamov has been quite dependable, even exceptional at times for the Islanders. He posted a 1.77 goals-against average with a .932 save percentage in the qualifying round against Florida. Varlamov fits well into Trotz’s defensive system.
Washington center Nicklas Backstrom is play hurt. The status of injured John Carlson is concern, although he is expected to play against the Islanders.
This series is closer than it looks. Defense is still king in the NHL, and Trotz often rules when that is the case.
Game 1 pick: Islanders (+115)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.