There was not much to like from the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the first round until the final minute of the second period. Mat Barzal came in on a rush and made a pass to Jordan Eberle, who sent a harmless-looking wrist shot past Braden Holtby to cut the Washington Capitals lead to 2-1 after 40 minutes.
The Islanders responded in the third period with an early goal from Anders Lee and then scored two more times in the final frame to take Game 1 from Washington in the opening round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Islanders’ Lack of Discipline
It is tough to ask the Islanders’ penalty kill to survive seven Capitals’ power plays. New York, though, did well and killed five of the seven off in the game. The most prominent part is that the Islanders have not given up an even-strength goal since Game 3 of their series against the Florida Panthers and have only allowed three even-strength goals in five postseason games. They have outplayed their opponents five-on-five, but are playing in close games due to their lack of discipline with multiple penalties coming on the power play so far.
New York went with Leo Komarov as their third line left-winger, and despite the win, he struggled on the penalty kill. While the veteran doesn’t bring much offense to the team, Komarov usually brings a lot to the penalty kill. However, he missed out on a pair of clearing attempts shorthanded that led to a Capitals’ goal. In an extremely physical series that had a fight and multiple roughing penalties, Komarov could find himself as a healthy scratch for the physical Ross Johnston in Game 2.
In 2018, Anthony Beauviller was sent to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the middle of the regular season. Two years later, the emerging superstar has scored four goals in five playoff games and registered a huge insurance goal to give the Islanders a 1-0 advantage in their series with the Capitals.
Beauvililler has done his damage on the second line without Barzal. The Islanders also acquired J.G. Pageau from the Ottawa Senators, and he has helped established the third line to go along with one of the best fourth lines in the league in Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
They will need to get scoring from their young superstar in Beauviller if they want to advance to the second round. The Capitals have a solid top defensive unit on the ice for the Barzal line, but Brock Nelson, Beauvillier and Josh Bailey can exploit a weaker second pairing as they did in Game 1.
The Islanders rotated goaltenders through their first 33 games of the regular season before Semyon Varlamov played back-to-back games in mid-December. After neither goaltender established themselves as the clear number one, Varlamov was given the nod as the starter for the playoffs. New York had gotten incredible goaltending from Varlamov so far this summer.
Considering the amount of time the Islanders have played on the penalty kill, Varlamov remains sharp. He had his one hiccup come in Game 3 against the Panthers, where he took a delay of game penalty for playing the puck in the restricted zone but has responded well.
In Game 1, he didn’t have much of a chance on the first Capitals power-play goal after a crazy bounce. However, he went on to allow just one other goal on the remaining 25 shots. He also kept Alex Ovechkin off the scoresheet as the sniper had six shots on goal, mostly coming with New York on the penalty kill.
In what could have been a postseason where head coach Barry Trotz used both Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, Varlamov has proven for now he is a worthy starter for a long playoff run with the Islanders.
With a 1-0 lead in the series and the win coming with Washington having the last change, the Islanders are in a strong position to take a commanding lead in the series in Game 2 on Friday. However, Holtby will likely respond as he has done much of his career after allowing two soft goals in Game 1. The Capitals are only two years removed from having lost their first two games in the first round of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets and going on to win a Stanley Cup with Islanders’ coach Barry Trotz.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.