After Game 4 of the series between the Islanders and Capitals, it seemed as though New York’s success would hinge simply on shutting down Washington’s superstar duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. If Game 5 has taught us anything, though, it may be that it’s high time the Islanders start worrying about the ways in which the Capitals' depth scoring could make this a six-game series victory.
In the series’ fifth game, it wasn’t Ovechkin or Backstrom who found the score sheet with regularity, but Evgeny Kuznetsov who was an absolute terror, ripping up and down the ice with ease and cutting through New York’s defense with relative ease. In the first period, Kuznetsov scored to tie the game, and from then on out the puck found him at every turn.
That’s worrisome going into Game 6 for the Islanders, too. Because of the way the depth stars stood out for the Capitals in Game 5, it gives cause to believe they may be heating up at the most inopportune time for New York. In an outing in which Washington netted five goals, the combination of Backstrom and Ovechkin didn’t find the score sheet once. Instead, Kuznetsov led the way with two goals and three points, while each of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson and Karl Alzner registered two points.
Now, instead of simply shutting down Ovechkin and Backstrom, which the Islanders did spectacularly in Game 5, they have to worry that the Capitals second and third lines are going to hurt them in a must-win contest back at Nassau Coliseum.
While many will look at the play of Jaroslav Halak, who allowed four goals and a weak fifth goal to Chimera, and put the blame on him. But he also stopped 35 shots through 49 minutes and made a few outstanding saves that kept the Islanders in the game early. Before the midway mark of the second frame, he had robbed Kuznetsov of his second goal of the game. He had made an outstanding stop on Mike Green. And, for what it’s worth, the eventual game-winner by Alzner could have easily been whistled down as Halak appeared to have the puck frozen for a split second.
Through the regular season, the Islanders were one of the better possession teams in the league, but that simply wasn’t the case Thursday night in Washington. The Islanders weren’t just beaten – they were defeated with relative ease, dispatched without ever really testing Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Instead, for large parts of the game, New York seemed more concerned with exacting revenge on the Capitals’ Tom Wilson, the rugged right winger responsible for knocking Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky out of Game 4 and possibly the remainder of the series. As the contest wound to a close, both Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck were ejected from the game for trying to hack and whack at Washington players, while Casey Cizikas laid a vicious chop into the groin of Wilson that could find him watching next game from the sidelines.
There are few playoff teams as young or talented as the Islanders, so now the job for coach Jack Capuano is to light a fire in his young group and get them to turn around their play in Games 6 and 7. For a stretch of the regular season, the Islanders sat atop the Metropolitan Division thanks to their talented offense and mobile defense. If New York can push the pace and control the flow of play, there’s no doubt they have the talent to force a Game 7. At that point, it’ll be all hands on deck for a winner-takes-all affair.