You don’t have to go far to find the storyline in the playoff series between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders.
Barry Trotz is in all the headlines, as you might expect. The current coach of the Islanders was the coach of the Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup two years ago. Trotz left Washington when his contract expired the summer afterward and burst on the scene with the Islanders, helping them sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins and set up a defensive system to be feared.
Of course, some would argue that Washington has an offensive system to be feared. Thanks to Alex Ovechkin and Co., the Capitals posted the third-best offence in the regular season with 236 goals. They went 1-1-1 in the round robin, snagging their single win over the Boston Bruins.
The Islanders, meanwhile, took down the Florida Panthers by playing their team game. They bumped up their power play prowess and forward Anthony Beauvillier put up five points in four games. Two of his three goals were game-winners and one was a power play goal.
The Islanders and Capitals split their regular season meetings 2-2-0 and that suggests this should be a rather close series.
Goalie Braden Holtby holds a 16-6-3 record over the Islanders, with a 2.44 goals against average. He started all three round robin games and is going to have to be the man for Washington, as backup Ilya Samsonov was ruled unfit to play at the start of training camp. It’s quite a turn of events for Holtby, who lost the starting gig just before the pause and was going through the worst season of his career.
If there’s a time for redemption, it’s now.
New York will counter with Semyon Varlamov, who finished off the Panthers with a 1.77 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. His Islanders collapsed around him, allowing just 25.8 shots against per game.
Playoff hockey is a different animal and you need your stars to show up. Ovechkin didn’t put up a point in the round robin, while defenceman John Carlson is questionable for Game One. That could dampen Washington’s offensive chances.
For a while, it looked like the Islanders would be without defenceman Johnny Boychuk after a Mike Matheson hit took him out in Game One of the Qualifying Round. But Trotz said everyone was at practice Tuesday, which should put the blueliner back with Nick Leddy. That solidifies one of the most formidable defensive pairings in the sport. And that could tilt the series New York’s way.