The Washington Capitals played their first set of back-to-back games this weekend, and it showed. Predictably, the Capitals had jump in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. They couldn't sustain the push, however, and Tomas Vokoun had an up and down game, though it is hard to pin the loss squarely on his shoulders. The Islanders skated hard all game and scored goals on simple hockey plays where they simply beat the Capitals to the puck. After losing 6 in a row and only scoring 18 goals in 10 games, the Islanders, who scored more goals than the Caps last season, were due for a win.
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The Islanders gave the Caps trouble at times, but Vokoun kept them off the board and gave the Caps time to get the lead. The first period featured some Bruce Boudreau line shuffling, with Jeff Halpern moving up to center the third line while Brooks Laich moved up to the wing on the second line. The shuffle worked, as Halpern set up Joel Ward's goal just 5:24 into the game. Halpern cycled the puck to the point for John Carlson, who uncorked a shot that Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro had trouble corralling. The puck popped out to Ward, who grabbed it out of the air and took a spin-o-rama shot over DiPietro's right shoulder to put the Caps on top early.
Predictably, Alex Semin was nailed with a tripping call midway through the first period, which the Capitals killed with aplomb. With just over 4 minutes to go in the first period, PA Parenteau cross-checked Caps D Roman Hamrlik into the corner boards from behind, earning a 5-minute boarding major and drawing the ire of Alex Ovechkin, who decked Parenteau and earned himself a 2-minute penalty. Not long after Ovie was released from the box, the officials nailed Joel Ward with a weak tripping call behind the Islanders net. No matter, as the Caps got a goal anyway with 1:19 left in the 1st. The Capitals got their cycle game going, as Ovie dished the puck to Nicklas Backstrom along the half-wall and got himself open in the middle of the ice. Backis returned the puck to Ovie in his wheelhouse at the top of the circles and Ovechkin ripped a one-time slapshot through DiPietro for a 2-0 lead.
After the break, what little jump the Caps had left in their strides was extinguished when Frans Nielsen scored a goal that proved to be a harbinger for the Islanders. Just 100 seconds into the middle frame, the slick Dane moved into the Caps zone 1-on-4 and fired a harmless shot on Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun put the rebound off to the side, but Nielsen beat all the Caps to the puck and buried the rebound past a surprised goaltender. Vokoun hadn't even gotten his stick down to cover his 5-hole as he moved to pick up Nielsen.
The rest of the period went back and forth and featured some fun hockey, even if the Caps didn't quite have their legs. About midway through the period, Halpern ran over the goalie, got back up, and proceeded to harangue DiPietro some more before the officials sent him off the ice. The Caps killed the penalty, but a couple minutes later, the man with the cannon got the puck and tied the game. On a fairly harmless-looking play, PA Parenteau passed the puck to Brian Rolston, who fired off his monster slap-shot just over the blue line. The thigh-high shot dipped as it reached Vokoun and it eluded the veteran netminder. With 3 minutes to go in the second period, the Caps were going code blue, barely showing a pulse, and they ended the period with just 7 shots on goal to the Islanders' 15. As a measure of how seriously the Caps were taking the game, there was no second intermission guest for Craig Laughlin to interview.
By the third period, the Capitals were showing all the "experience" they acquired in the offseason and got beaten to many pucks. Vokoun was there to bail them out on several occasions, but even he proved mortal. The Caps went down 3-2 at 6:48 in, tied the game at 3-3 midway through on their only real powerplay of the night, and then went down 4-3 with 1:46 to go. The Islanders' next two goals in the third period were scored in the same way, the Islanders cycled the puck, passed back to a defenseman (Steve Staios, then Milan Jurcina) who ripped a slap shot that Tomas Vokoun couldn't control. Then an Islander forward out-muscled (Matt Martin) or out-hustled (PA Parenteau) Dennis Wideman (-4) to the puck in front and buried it.
Brooks Laich, who has been solid on the point on the powerplay of late, got the Caps even when Steve Staios went to the box for holding up Alex Ovechkin. Backstrom got the puck back to Dennis Wideman, who made a smart pass to Laich in the left circle. Laich wasted no time roofing the puck while Ovie was screening DiPietro.
The Caps seemed destined to go to overtime tied at 3, but it was not to be. John Tavares sealed the game with an empty netter, ironically assisted by Islander goalie Rick DiPietro providing a quick breakout pass.
The Caps have a couple days to regroup and recover after a taxing two-game, two-day road trip against two young and hungry hockey teams. Next up is the surging Dallas Stars on Tuesday.