For the most part, the New York Islanders have done an outstanding job containing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but even allowing the superstar duo a few moments of brilliance has been enough to leave the Islanders tied with the Capitals after four games.
While shutting down any superstar for an entire series is incredibly difficult, it might be the only chance the Islanders have. Because in Game 2, when the Capitals stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to steal a win, and Game 4, when Backstrom and Ovechkin were the only Capitals to find the back of the net in a 2-1 overtime victory, it’s been the Capitals’ two-headed monster that has kept this series even.
It’s not the Islanders alone who have had difficulty shutting down the twosome this year, though. Throughout the season, Ovechkin and Backstrom were two of the highest scoring players in the entire league and combined were the second highest scoring teammates in 2014-15, only behind Dallas’ Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
For the most part, the Islanders have done a commendable job shutting down Ovechkin – through four games he has two goals and three points – but Backstrom has been an entirely different story. He tore up Game 2 and sparked the comeback that was eventually capped by Jason Chimera. In Game 4, Backstrom’s long wristshots resulted in Ovechkin’s deflected tally and the overtime winner. But that’s the problem: shutting down one of the Capitals’ two premier offensive weapons isn’t enough. You need to stop both to beat Washington consistently.
The issue isn’t only on the score sheet, either. Regardless of containing both Ovechkin and Backstrom when it comes to point scoring, the duo has been tremendous in the possession game. According to War-On-Ice, heading into Tuesday’s game, Backstrom had a 5-on-5 shot attempts for percentage of nearly 53 percent while Ovechkin floated close to the 54.5 percent mark.
Obviously, the best way to defend against the two stars is to make them play in the defensive zone, and if the Islanders can’t tilt possession in their favor when Backstrom and Ovechkin are on the ice, it’s only a matter of time before Ovechkin has one of his patented multi-goal nights or Backstrom pads his point total even further. Though some have heralded the improved defensive play of Ovechkin, he still has a way to go to be a true two-way forward, so the goal then is to make him defend where he is no doubt less comfortable.
In Washington’s two losses in this series, Backstrom and Ovechkin have combined for one point – a goal scored by Backstrom in Game 3’s 2-1 overtime loss. That’s the key for the Islanders, too.
The trouble for Islanders coach Jack Capuano in Game 5 is he won’t have the final change and the chance to effectively match his lines in a game that could be pivotal in deciding who heads to the second round. If in any way, if even for a moment, either Ovechkin or Backstrom get loose, it could be a must-win Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum.