The Washington Capitals rebounded strongly after a Game 1 loss to the Isles to tie their first-round series in Game 2, but Sunday on Long Island, the Caps’ supporting cast once again failed to provide enough support to stars Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby.
After a strong showing against the New York Islanders in Game 2 of their first-round playoff showdown, the Washington Capitals were outplayed for the grand majority of Game 3 Sunday en route to losing 2-1 in overtime and falling behind two games to one in the series. And if they’re going to rebound and make it to the second round against the winner of the Rangers/Penguins series, the Caps are going to require significant step-ups from players not named Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby.
Some might say the Caps performed admirably, outshooting the Islanders 12-7 in the third and getting a third-period goal from Nicklas Backstrom to force overtime, and that they lost on this relatively fluky goal by Isles captain John Tavares just 15 seconds into the extra frame:
However, to argue the Caps deserved a better fate is to focus on the few things they did right and not the numerous things they did wrong. The truth is the Caps weren’t as hungry as the host Isles, who were all over Washington in the first two periods of Game 3, outshooting the Capitals 33-13 heading into the second intermission. Once again, the Isles got production from players other than top stars such as Tavares – namely, winger Kyle Okposo, who scored his second goal of the playoffs and was a physical force – and once again, Washington got strong performances out of Ovechkin and Holtby (who stopped 40 of 42 shots for a .952 save percentage on the day), but few others.
For the third consecutive game, Caps rookie center Evgeny Kuznetsov was held off the scoresheet altogether – and his 14:52 of ice time was his lowest total since a March 29 game against the Rangers. For the second straight game, left winger Marcus Johansson put up goose eggs in the offensive categories, and his time-on-ice average has dropped every game (from 18:18 in Game 1 to 15:48 in Game 3). Once again, Washington’s expensive defense corps – whose top four members (Mike Green, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and John Carlson) combined to earn more than $21 million this season – produced precious little offense, with Green’s lone assist their only point on Sunday.
The Caps know what they can count on from Ovechkin (who played a series-high 22:47) and Holtby (who was back after missing Game 2 due to illness), but can you honestly say the same of anyone else in the lineup? Only three of Washington’s players have at least two points in the series, and just one (Backstrom, with four) has three or more. In contrast, six Islanders have at least two points in the 2015 post-season, and three have three points or more. In addition, Washington was also the sloppier team (with 10 giveaways in Game 3 to the Isles’ six) and less aggressive than the Islanders (who had 11 takeaways to the Caps’ five).
Simply put, the Capitals still need more from virtually everyone on the roster. This Isles squad isn’t the upstart group that was just happy to be in the playoffs against Pittsburgh in 2013. You can sense that, with veteran Jaroslav Halak, they’re a confident group intending on a long playoff push. It’s going to take more than just Ovechkin throwing big hits and scoring goals to send them to the golf course. It’ll take more than Holtby turning aside wave after wave of pushes into Washington’s zone. The Islanders are more than a one-or-two-player team now, and the Caps must be as well.
It doesn’t have to be just one of veterans Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera or Joel Ward who steps to the fore to get Washington back in the series and eliminate the Islanders. All it takes is one of them each game to nudge the team forward just a little bit more, and allow Ovechkin and Holtby to carry the majority of the load.
For two of the first three games, that hasn’t happened. And if Washington’s supporting cast fails to get it together in the very near future – especially with Game 4 in raucous Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night – the Capitals will fail to make it to the second round of the post-season for the third consecutive year.