3. Looking Ahead: Capitals Mini-Series
With Sunday’s win, the New York Islanders retained their seat in second place in the East Division. As Pittsburgh would go on to win 7-6 over the New Jersey Devils only a few minutes later, the win was important to keep the Isles ahead of the Penguins. But it was also important to keep them close to the team ahead of them, both in the standings and the schedule.
The Islanders and Washington Capitals will square off three times in the next seven days in a mini-series that will have potentially far-reaching consequences for the entire East Division. The Islanders and Capitals should be treating this set of games as the most important stretch of their regular seasons.
Not only does it provide an opportunity to get into that playoff mindset of seeing the same team more than twice in a row, but there are real implications at play here too. Whoever loses this mini-series runs the risk of being passed in the standings by the surging Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins.
Meanwhile, the winner will be growing their lead in the East, and could likely secure a path to a division title, and guaranteed home ice through two playoff rounds, via a regular-season “series” win.
This set will also provide an opportunity to feel the opposition out. As the Isles and Caps haven’t met since the trade deadline brought some new pieces to each side, there will be a chance here for the opposing coaching staff to review the tactical side of their game plans.
Washington is a quick-strike offense that creates a larger percentage of their shots off the rush than any other NHL team. The Islanders prefer to create offense off the cycle and forecheck. These two sides could not be any more different in terms of offensive tactics. The question for the coaches becomes how have the deadline acquisitions affected the opposition, and what adjustments have to be made to come out victorious?
It’s a matchup I really look forward to because when it comes down to it, it’s not just Islanders vs Capitals. It’s Barry Trotz vs Peter Laviolette. Two Stanley Cup-winning coaches with strong pedigrees who will attempt to work each other out and find a strategic upper hand over the other. The East Division could very well hang in the balance, and it should make for appointment viewing as three of the most important East Division games all season.