The Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders are amid a four-team battle for first place in the East Division, and as each has just eight games remaining, Tuesday night’s matchup in D.C. is important for both.
Washington (31-13-4, 66 points) sits one point behind first-place Pittsburgh (32-14-3, 67 points) in the East. But the Islanders (29-14-5, 63) are lurking behind the Capitals, with Boston still not out of it (27-14-6, 60).
The Capitals come into this game after taking two straight road wins against the Islanders, most recently 6-3 on Saturday, which came two days after a 1-0 shootout victory. This will be the third straight meeting between the two teams.
“Every game is crucial,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re going to go with hopefully a better game than we had (Saturday and go to) Washington to win. I don’t look at any game more crucial than any other. “
The win on Saturday proved important for the Caps as they needed to do it without captain Alex Ovechkin, sidelined by a lower-body injury. Daniel Sprong jumped on to the top line and contributed two goals while Evgeny Kuznetsov — who scored the game-winner during the shootout — added a goal and two assists.
The big question heading into Tuesday is will Ovechkin play? According to NHL.com, Saturday was the first game he missed due to an injury since March 5, 2015. There was nothing new from the team on Ovechkin as of Monday, and the Capitals also want to be sure he’s available for the playoffs, so that’s another factor.
“I think with some injuries, you don’t know what’s going to go on, whether somebody’s going to be available or not available, and that’s why I think people say day-to-day,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said after the last game. “Will he be there for the next game? I’m not sure at this point, so we’ll err on the side of caution at this point in the season. We’re not going to risk anything as we head towards the playoffs, but hopefully he continues to improve.”
As of now, Ovechkin’s 24 goals are tops on the Caps, and he needs one more to tie Marcel Dionne (731 goals) for fifth place in NHL history.
The question also will be who starts in goal for Washington as Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have been splitting time in net for most of the season — but Samsonov played and won the two games in New York.
The Islanders will try to rebound from the two losses, especially Saturday’s game in which they gave up six goals. New York got goals from Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier and Jean-Gabriel Pageau in that game.
New York had been dominant on home ice this season, going 19-2-2 before the Capitals took the two recent games, leaving the Islanders slipping in the East race.
Saturday, the Islanders weren’t able to do what they’ve often done this season — slow the opposing offense through the neutral zone. The Caps kept pushing and played the high-speed, end-to-end style that suits them best, so New York will have to find a way Tuesday to slow Washington’s pressure.
Ilya Sorokin was the goalie in Saturday’s loss, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see ex-Cap Semyon Varlamov in net for this matchup as he’s fared decently against Washington. In 17 starts against the Capitals, Varlamov is 6-9-2, but with a 2.65 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
A loss would hurt the Islanders, dropping them five points behind Washington. Yet, the Islanders’ easier schedule in the final days suggests the Capitals need to collect two points as they try to overtake Pittsburgh.
After Tuesday’s game, New York’s final seven games are against the Rangers, Sabres, and Devils (all below the playoff line) in two-game sets before finishing with a single game at Boston.
The Capitals, meantime, are schedule for pairs against the first-place Penguins, Rangers, and Flyers, followed by a singleton against Boston.
–Field Level Media