Remember, in Mike Tyson’s heyday, when you would all gather around the television, having just spent $50 to watch his latest pay-per-view bout? It’s midnight, the snacks are almost gone and all you can think is…."I hope his opponent can weather the storm, make it past the first round," as Tyson was known for his incredible early onslaught.
That’s sort of what Wednesday might have felt like for New York Islanders fans. Stanley Cup champions of two seasons ago, the Washington Capitals came out swinging and had the Islanders on the ropes.
Forced into undisciplined penalties and not playing to their strength, which is 5v5, Washington got two power-play goals from T.J Oshie and was comfortable with a 2-0 lead nearing the end of the second period, New York not able to muster much of an offensive attack.
Then things turned.
The Islanders weathered the storm, took their punches, and decided it was time to punch back.
It tremendously helped that Braden Holtby, Capitals goaltender, let his defenses down. Jordan Eberle floated a harmless appearing snap shot from beyond the top off the faceoff circle Holtby whiffed on, allowing the Islanders to feel better about the second intermission, trailing by only a goal.
Barry Trotz, who, um, has some experience with the other side, had his team stay to their game plan — the one that has allowed only three even-strength goals in their past five games.
Anders Lee tied the game, breaking the snide with a jam shot before Brock Nelson took advantage of another Holtby brain-cramp, picking his pocket as he aimed to lay off to Alex Ovechkin, feeding Josh Bailey for a short-handed goal and tie game. Bailey then sent a beautiful pass to Anthony Beauvillier to close out a game one victory that New York simply TOOK from the Capitals.
"We believe that 5v5, we can play with anybody," Trotz said post-game, and they have proven he’s right. New York, almost unbelievably, gave up only 11 5v5 shots to the Capitals, two over the first TWO PERIODS. They had 21 scoring chances (nine high danger) to Washington’s nine (three high danger) when not taking stupid, undisciplined penalties. Honestly, had it not been for the Capitals power play, this game is 4-0 and not even that close.
The Capitals are now faced with an almost must-win in game two tomorrow night, with or without Niklas Backstrom, who took a hard, late hit from Anders Lee in the first period, a hit Lee would have to answer the bell for twice, first with John Carlson and secondly Tom Wilson. Lee will not face any supplemental discipline for the hit, which he shouldn’t, even though the Capitals played the public relations game afterwards, calling the hit ‘predatory’.
The list of Islanders who shined yesterday were many, but the duo of Adam Pelech (6:44 SH TOI) and Scott Mayfield (6:23 SH TOI) should be at the top of the list.
Ovechkin played a ton of minutes (24:39) and was held to six shots. The Islanders defense was able to contain most of the Capitals threat when not killing penalties, with not much trouble either. That’s not to slight Washington at all, but praise New York’s commitment to and execution of Trotz’s system. Nelson was a beast, grabbing two huge assists and going 14-6 on faceoffs. Bailey and Mathew Barzal showed up in the third and took over with some high-end skill.
These are still the former Stanley Cup champions. They can still roll out an offensive lineup that compares with any around the league. And I still believe this series will be a close one, unlike the Islanders' sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins a year ago. There is still a way to go.
But, if Washington can’t figure out how to play the Islanders at even strength, who knows? Game 2 should answer most questions.