In a game highlighted by Alexander Ovechkin’s milestone 767th career goal, which surpassed Jaromir Jagr for most goals all-time, the New York Islanders played a great game that ended in a shootout. The Capitals won the game 4-3, but the Islanders continued to prove why they will make a push for the playoffs and climb the Metropolitan Division standings.
The Islanders outplayed their division rival and forced overtime in the final minutes of the game to earn points in their fourth consecutive game. The loss leaves them 19 points behind the Capitals for the final spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but the strong performance keeps the push for the playoff spot alive and, more importantly, proved that the roster is clicking at the right time.
Nelson & Lee Continue to Lead the Offense
Brock Nelson continued to build his team lead as he found the back of the net in the second period for his 24th goal of the season. It wasn’t a typical Nelson goal, with the veteran forward collecting a rebound and finishing a scoring chance with a quick shot rather than creating the goal himself. However, it tied the game and helped flip the momentum in the Islanders’ favor.
Nelson started the scoring for his team with a shot from the wing, but Anders Lee sent the game to overtime from his office. The Islanders were trailing 3-2 and all the momentum was on the Capitals’ side following the Ovechkin goal, but with the net empty and Noah Dobson firing a shot from the blue line, Lee found an open shot from the center of the offensive zone. The captain caught Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek out of position and elevated the puck to find the back of the net for his 22nd goal on the season. New York’s offense has scored three goals or more in the last five games, and the forward unit has been carried by its top-two goal-scorers, and this game was no exception.
Semyon Varlamov got the start in the net for the Islanders. The team has shifted to a goaltender rotation after the veteran returned to the lineup, giving the younger Ilya Sorokin a night off after leading the team to a 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
The Capitals found the back of the net three times in the game, with two goals in the final 10 minutes of the game, but the final score isn’t indicative of Varlamov’s night. The 33-year-old goaltender saved 29 of 32 shots, and with the Islanders’ defense allowing multiple odd-man rush scoring opportunities, the game was kept close thanks to the strong play in goal. Yes, the team lost in the shootout, but with a great goaltending performance, the Islanders earned a point and continue to make up ground in the standings.
Chara Stepping Up Against Former Team
Zdeno Chara made his mark as a Boston Bruin and will enter the Hall of Fame as one of the franchise’s greatest defensemen. However, last season he made his mark with the Capitals and was a pivotal part of their defensive unit, contributing 2.1 defensive point shares and 67 blocked shots. The veteran defenseman signed a one-year deal with the Islanders this season and struggled at times as one of the team’s slow starters, but recently, he has stepped up and helped out the lower pairings.
Against his former team, Chara played a big role in the strong performance of the Islanders. He typically isn’t a scoring defenseman, with only nine assists this season, but in the second period, he fired a shot from the point that deflected off the Capitals goaltender directly to Nelson for the team’s first goal of the game. Moreover, the 44-year-old stepped up in the defensive zone throughout the game and limited the Capitals’ offense from finding easy scoring opportunities in another strong game since returning from injury.
Other Notes from the Islanders Game
Josh Bailey has been red hot recently, scoring three goals and four assists in the last four games. Against the Capitals, he created another goal with great movement in the offensive zone to find an open Kyle Palmieri — who is also finding his scoring touch in recent games — for the Islanders’ second goal of the game. While the offense stepped up, scoring three goals and allowing the team to earn a point, the defensive unit struggled throughout the game, allowing the Capitals to find open ice and easy scoring chances, which forced Varlamov to make plenty of difficult saves.
The Islanders will remain on the road for their next game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. With only 24 wins in 57 games, the Islanders desperately need a win and continue to earn points. A win against a Metropolitan Division opponent is crucial for the late-season push for the playoffs.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.