Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) and Troy Brouwer (20) celebrate Backstrom’s goal past Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak during the third period of Game 2 Friday night. The Islanders blow a 2-goal lead, as Caps even series at 1-1.
The Islanders surrendered two goals on Friday night during two separate sequences where a player broke a stick. That’s unlucky. But allowing two goals through careless defense and uncharacteristic turnovers? That’s unacceptable.
The Isles were terrific defensively in Game 1, limiting the stout Capitals offense to 55 shot attempts – just 25 of them on net – in a 4-1 victory. But the script flipped in Game 2, when Washington attempted 82 shots – 35 on net – possessed the puck constantly and willed themselves to a 4-3 win in the latter half of the contest with three unanswered goals. The Isles, who played so well with a lead on Wednesday, watched two separate two-goal leads evaporate on Friday night. And it wasn’t just the blown leads that was a cause for concern. It was the culprits behind the collapse.
Four of the team’s primary penalty killers – Johnny Boychuk, Thomas Hickey, Frans Nielsen and Nikolay Kulemin – stood motionless and watched Nicklas Backstrom glide through the slot untouched for the game-tying goal at 3:44 of the third period. Less than four minutes later, Nick Leddy, who has deservedly garnered some Norris Trophy buzz after an exceptional first season in Uniondale, uncharacteristically made a crucial turnover that led directly to Jason Chimera’s game-winner.
Jack Capuano has said on several occasions throughout the year that “your best players have to be your best players.” The Isles’ best players, at least from a defensive perspective, were far from sharp in Game 2.
“It goes back to managing the puck. No matter how this game is broken down – you need special teams, you need a goaltender to play well – but you’ve got to manage the puck,” Capuano said. “On that (Chimera) goal, we didn’t manage the puck and then on the penalty kill goal we’re standing there. Backstrom walks right through the middle and it’s a 1-on-4 with (Alex) Ovechkin on the wide side. For whatever reason, we didn’t have good sticks and we let him walk in the zone and he beat our goaltender. Those are areas of our game (that) guys saw on the video, but as an individual you’ve got to prepare and you’ve got to be better.”
The blue line’s brilliance in Game 1 momentarily made Travis Hamonic’s (apparent left knee injury) absence an afterthought. But during Game 2, it became abundantly clear how much he is needed. Hamonic is arguably the team’s best defender and has also enjoyed a career season offensively. He was seen limping heavily once again at the Coliseum on Saturday, making it less and less likely that a return is imminent.
“I think this has been his best season,” Lubomir Visnovsky said. “He’s physically very good, a good skater and we miss him with ice time between (the defensemen), especially with (him) playing against the best line. Nick and Johnny usually spend more time on the power play, more time on offense, (but) they need to play more defense and less offense now… I hope he’s back as soon as possible.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” Visnovsky continued. “This is the playoffs.”
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Washington goaltender Braden Holtby seems likely return for Sunday’s Game 3 after missing Game 2 with an illness
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