Game Preview: NY Islanders @ Washington Capitals

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals
New York Islanders v Washington Capitals / Patrick Smith/GettyImages
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19. 7:30 PM. 106. 15-9-4. TNT. December 20, 2023. Isles at Capitals. . 15-8-8

The NY Islanders (15-8-8, 38 points) get set to play the second game of a back-to-back against the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals (15-9-4, 34 points) at Capital One Arena.

LAST GAME

The Islanders are coming off a challenging performance at UBS Arena against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. After a slow start for the offense having only one SOG in the first 13 minutes, Anders Lee scored ihs 8th goal of the season to tie the game 1-1. 

The Isles dominated the 2nd period with Bo Horvat scoring on the powerplay and Simon Holmstrom scoring his league-leading 5th shorthanded goal to increase the lead to 3-1. What was more impressive was the penalty kill that fought off a 5-on-3 disadvantage with Brock Nelson and Julien Gauthier in the box. Ilya Sorokin was his Vezina-Award-worthy self in the 3rd period having 30 saves on the night leading the Islanders to a 3-1 victory.

Meanwhile, the Capitals are coming off a Metropolitan Division defensive showdown against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Despite taking three penalties in the first two periods, the Capitals kept the game 0-0 until the NHL's Finnish Sebastian Aho scored his 12th goal of the season. The Capitals responded immediately with a goal from defenseman Martin Fehérváry to tie the game 1-1. Uncharacteristic of a game between these two former offensive juggernauts, there were very few shots on goal with the Hurricanes only taking 29 shots while the Capitals recorded 21. This caused the matchup to be decided in a shootout where Evgeny Kuznetsov's 1st round goal was enough to seal a Capitals 2-1 victory.

HISTORICAL MATCHUP

The last game between the two division rivals came on November 11th at UBS Arena. Though the Islanders came out to a fast start outshooting the Capitals 22-10, it was Ovechkin who struck first with a goal straight off a faceoff win by Kuznetsov. The Islanders never let the momentum shift as Alexander Romanov scored his first goal of the season off a crazy rebound from Mathew Barzal. A common theme for the 2023-24 Islanders, turnovers at the blue line from Hudson Fasching and Ryan Pulock proved to be costly as Nic Dowd and Aliaksei Protas took advantage, giving the Capitals a 3-1 lead. The game remained close until an Ovechkin empty-netter late in the 3rd period sealed the deal, handing the Capitals a 4-1 victory.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

For the Islanders, Horvat has increased his point streak to 11 games, now the longest of his career. Mathew Barzal had two breakaway shots last night and Brock Nelson had some solid opportunities. J.G. Pageau and Holmstrom had 3 different opportunities to score shorthanded goals, creating a great tandem in 5-on-4 situations. It is noteworthy Gauthier left the game in the 2nd period, so expect Oliver Wahlstrom to draw a start on the Isles third line.

While the Capitals had a major sell-off at the trade deadline in 2023, they have responded well to rookie head coach Spencer Carbery's new system. Dylan Strome is still an elite top-line center, leading the team with 18 points this season. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren is off to a hot start recording a .925 save percentage and a 6-3-2 record. John Carlson and Rasmus Sandin continue to make a great defensive tandem, having 114 blocked shots between the two. The Capitals' strength this season has been their defense, as they rank 6th in the NHL with just 80 goals given up through their first 28 games.

Though the Capitals had a 2022-23 season to forget, they performed very well against the Islanders. The record was 3-0-1 in the Capitals' favor. It is interesting to note Pierre Engvall and Fasching each had 2 goals against the Capitals last season while Strome had 3 against the Islanders. Ilya Sorokin was 1-1-1 and Semyon Varlamov was 0-1-0, including being the deciding goaltender for the loss on November 11th. With Sorokin in net for last night's matchup against the Oilers, expect Varlamov in the net against the Capitals tonight.

PROJECTED LINEUP

ISLANDERS

Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom - J.G. Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom
Hudson Fasching - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Samuel Bolduc - Robert Bortuzzo
Mike Reilly - Sebastian Aho

Semyon Varlamov
Ilya Sorokin

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Tom Wilson
Aliaksei Protas – Connor McMichael – Anthony Mantha
Hendrix Lapierre – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Ivan Miroshnichenko
Beck Malenstyn – Nic Dowd – Nicolas Aube

Martin Fehervary – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Trevor Van Riemsdyk
Joel Edmundson – Nick Jensen

Darcy Kuemper
Charlie Lindgren