photo credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Tuesday night was a tough one for any New York Islanders fan, no matter how long you have watched this team. It did not start well by any means for an Isles team hungry to grab two points in our nation’s capital. The depleted Washington Capitals playing without five of their key players poured on the pressure early. But just like in his previous starts this season - Isles goaltender and former Washington Capital Semyon Varlamov stood tall and kept his team in the game. On the power-play, 11:06 into the first period, John Carlson cleaned up a rebound and put it top shelf behind Varlamov. Nicklas Backstrom recorded his fourth assist of the year, and longtime Pittsburgh Penguin Justin Schultz, who is no stranger to the power-play, picked up his second assist on the year. At 15:33 into the first, Noah Dobson got one past Caps goaltender Vitek Vanecek after hitting the skate of defenseman Brenden Dillon, evening the score at one. Mathew Barzal was credited with his third assist of the season, and Jordan Eberle was awarded his second assist of the year. The second frame got off to a quiet start, although it was a much better start than the first for the men in blue and orange. Mathew Barzal took advantage of veteran and former Islander Zdeno Chara’s turnover, scoring 10:01 in on a gorgeous backhand top shelf, displaying just how patient and deceptive he is when the puck is on his stick. He gave the Isles their first (and last) lead of the night. 7:21 later and 17:21 into the second frame, Daniel Sprong got one past Varlamov, tying the game at two. Daniel Carr recorded his first assist of the season, and John Carlson his fifth. The game was pretty evenly matched from there on out, with the Islanders creating many quality scoring opportunities and displaying strong puck movement. However, things took a quick turn when Leo Komarov sent Lars Eller flying into the boards and was assessed a five-minute boarding major. Eller was shaken up and tended to by Caps trainers. This five-minute major call was foreboding for the blue and orange faithful and ultimately changed the entire game. Sure enough, the Isles killed off the penalty, and there was still hope. Both teams exchanged chances inside the final four minutes of play, but at 19:33, Garnet Hathaway and Brenden Dillon assisted Justin Schultz, putting the Islanders in a near-impossible comeback situation, making the score 3-2 with twenty-seven seconds remaining. With the net empty, the Isles created a quality scoring chance that was shut down by Vanecek. The Capitals remain one of four teams that are undefeated in regulation time.
Though it wasn’t the outcome Barry Trotz hoped for and imagined against his former team, there are a few positives that can be drawn from this hockey game. Kieffer Bellows has looked fantastic. Despite not scoring, his positioning and overall game have been excellent. If this continues and he embraces his top-six role, we could be in for a treat. Noah Dobson has continued to dazzle and looks incredibly poised every single shift. He seems to be making an improvement and looking better game after game. Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 of 37 shots and looked calm, cool, and collected in his crease. The outcome is very frustrating, but as we advance, Oliver Wahlstrom will likely be seeing some minutes, and Dmytro Timashov may be getting involved as well. Getting Anthony Beauvillier back and healthy will help immensely. It is still early in the season and not time to be concerned. All Isles fans should have faith in the Hall of Fame general manager and future Hall of Fame coach at the helm.
The rematch between these two teams will take place on Thursday at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Puck drop is set for 7 PM Eastern Time.