Pregame #12: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders

Washington Capitals (9-2-0) vs. New York Islanders (3-5-2)
Location: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7:00 PM
TV:  Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!)
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Games Remaining:
Jan 17, 2012 NYI@WSH, 7:00 PM
Feb 28, 2012 NYI@WSH, 7:00 PM
Mar 13, 2012 WSH@NYI, 7:00 PM
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  D Milan Jurcina (211 GP, 2007-09)
Former Islanders:  D John Erskine (34 GP, 2005-06), D Roman Hamrlik (300 GP, 2000-04) 
Our Bloguin Partner:
  Islanders Hockey Blog

Read on, if you can bear it!

The Washington Capitals head to Long Island for their second road game in as many nights.  The Caps are once again firmly in control of the Southeast Division standings.  They have the most wins, and fewest losses in the fewest games of the 5 teams.  The Caps have also scored the most goals, allowed the fewest, and are the only team with a positive goal differential.  Their top-notch powerplay is right back to where it had been from 2008-2010, even if the penalty kill has been spotty.  The Caps will also have Tomas Vokoun between the pipes tonight after Michal Neuvirth got the nod in Raleigh.  The new-look Caps and the newly energized coaching staff are getting the season started off right and should have an excellent game against the Islanders.

The New York Islanders are in quite the opposite situation.  They sit in last place in the Atlantic Division, with the most losses, the fewest goals scored, the worst goal differential as of Friday.  The secondary scoring that made them a threat at times last season has been absent so far, meaning the youngest player on the team, John Tavares, has been carrying the load alone (7 goals, 11 points).  The Islanders’ powerplay is working at a respectable rate of 19.4%, good for 9th in the league, but since they have had the second-fewest opportunities (36), their 7 powerplay goals in 10 games hasn’t won them too many games (2-1-1 in games with powerplay goals).  The Islanders have already been blanked three times this season, neutralizing their good goaltending (with the exception of Rick DiPietro).  If the Islanders can’t score, they’re going nowhere fast. 

Injury Report:   Capitals’ D Mike Green (ankle) is day-to-day.  RW Jay Beagle (head) is out.  RW Troy Brouwer (shoulder) is questionable.
-For the Islanders, G Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) is day-to-day.

Three Things To Watch For:

Streit Shooter:  Islanders Captain and #1 defenseman Mark Streit is happy just to be back on the ice.  Streit missed all of last season with a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp and was forced to watch his teammates scuffle their way to a 27th-place finish.  Now that he’s back on the ice, Streit has put up 8 points in the first 10 games this season, though his -4 rating is more of an indication of his team’s lack of defensive awareness than anything else.  The 5’11, 193-pound Streit is their rock on the blueline, averaging nearly 24 minutes of ice time per game, and the 33-year old is usually matched against the opponents’ top lines.  Look for a healthy dose of Streit in all situations tonight.

John vs. John:  A pair of 21-year olds expect to go head-to-head in the premier match-up of the night, the Islanders top center, John Tavares, against the Capitals’ top-pairing defenseman, John Carlson.  Tavares, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, has been the focal point of his team’s offense for the past two seasons, leading the team in points each of the past two seasons (54 and 67) with boyhood friend Matt Moulson (30 and 31 goals) riding shotgun.  Carlson, a first round pick in 2008, has been leaned on heavily for his strong defensive play (career +36) and providing timely offense while paired with fellow young-stud Karl Alzner.  Most interestingly, Carlson has come out ahead in the head-to-head match-up of the former OHL London Knights teammates.  Carlson had an assist in all 4 games last season while Tavares was limited to 1 assist in 3 games.  Expect an older and stronger Tavares to be much harder to handle tonight. 

Toothless Killer:  The New York Islanders are 14th in the NHL in penalty killing at 86.1%, and are one of 13 teams not to score a shorthanded goal this season.  While normally not cause for alarm, the Islanders penalty kill was a bright spot for the team last season.  Their PK was 12th in the NHL last season by the traditional ratio of penalties killed allowed versus number of powerplays allowed (268/310, 83.2%), but they were tops in the league in terms of shorthanded goals scored with 15, meaning they scored on average a shorthanded goal every 5.5 games.  More importantly, they allowed a differential of only 37 goals while shorthanded all season, and only 6 teams were better in that category.  More importantly, the Islanders were 9-3-1 when they had a shorthanded goal and their opponent didn’t, which was nearly a third of their win total.  Unless the Islanders’ speedy forwards, namely Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen, start making a difference while shorthanded, don’t count on them winning too many games.