3 Takeaways From Islanders’ 5-1 Loss vs Capitals

The New York Islanders looked unbeatable in recent games and poised to cruise into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on March 4, the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on March 7, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 comeback victory on March 9 to leap into the top wild-card spot in the conference. However, the Islanders hit a wall against the Washington Capitals, losing 5-1 in arguably their worst defeat since the All-Star Break.

Related: 5 Takeaways From Islanders’ 4-3 Overtime Win vs Penguins

The loss was a humbling one for an Islanders team that was riding high and looking like an elite team. This game was a reminder that the Islanders can’t get complacent and can easily get overwhelmed on any night if they play down to a resurgent team like the Capitals.

Islanders’ Power Play Struggles

The Islanders had five power play opportunities and could have easily made this game a close one or even taken the lead with a goal on the man advantage. Instead, they failed to score on all five chances. They had a few good scoring chances with Noah Dobson generating shots on the net from the point and Bo Horvat operating from the slot but otherwise, the unit looked hapless.

Bo Horvat New York Islanders
Bo Horvat, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mathew Barzal has been out of the lineup since the Feb. 18 loss to the Boston Bruins with a lower-body injury. The team has stepped up in his absence, but the power play is where he is missed. Against the Capitals, the Islanders needed a forward who could create open shots for other skaters on the ice, but with Barzal out, the team lacked that playmaker.

Varlamov Struggles in Start

The last game that Semyon Varlamov started was Feb. 26, a game in which he shut out the Winnipeg Jets in a 23-save performance. In the few games that he’s started this season, he’s stepped up and provided stability in the net, allowing the Islanders to look like a playoff team led by a remarkable goaltending duo. Unfortunately, he had a night to forget against the Capitals.

Latest News & Highlights

Varlamov allowed five goals on only 27 shots. Some of the goals he allowed were caused by defensive breakdowns, allowing the Capitals to find easy scoring opportunities, but the majority of the goals allowed were shots that he failed to pick up. The Islanders have relied heavily on Ilya Sorokin this season and understandably so as he’s putting together a Vezina Trophy-caliber season. Varlamov has been a reliable backup, but in the upcoming games, the Islanders might need to continue to start Sorokin to assure that they make the playoffs.

Engvall Scores His First Goal with the Islanders

The bright spot in the game was Pierre Engvall, who scored the Islanders’ only goal in the 5-1 loss. In the first period, he carried the puck into the offensive zone on the rush and found the back of the net on a redirected shot. Engvall has struggled to find a role in the forward unit since he was acquired at the trade deadline but the recent game provided a glimpse of what he can bring to the offense, specifically with his speed on the rush.

Pierre Engvall New York Islanders
Pierre Engvall, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Engvall scored 12 goals with the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was traded. Moreover, he was a spark to the third line and added depth to an offense that was led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Engvall is still learning the Islanders system and developing a connection with his new linemates, but the expectation is that by the end of the year, he will be a potent goal scorer on the third line, helping elevate the offense.

Other Takeaways From the Islanders’ Loss

  • The penalty kill had a good night, killing all four of the Capitals’ power plays. The Islanders have been one of the best penalty-killing teams all season and it gives them an advantage against great teams that have great power play units.
  • Cal Clutterbuck returned to the lineup, but aside from the four hits, he had a rather uneventful night. In 12:36 of ice time, he had zero shots on the net and struggled to create scoring chances.
  • Adam Pelech stepped up in the 5-1 loss with five blocked shots and 5:06 of ice time on the penalty kill. The Islanders had a rough game defensively, but Pelech put together a strong performance and kept the team in the game until the third period.

What’s Next for the Islanders?

The Islanders will head west for the three-game road trip. They face the Los Angeles Kings on March 14 and then face the Anaheim Ducks the following night before wrapping up the trip on March 18 against the San Jose Sharks. The Ducks and Sharks are two of the worst teams in the NHL and the Islanders have to take advantage and defeat both opponents to maintain their playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders’ three-game win streak was snapped with their loss to the Capitals. It’s a reminder that the Islanders will have a few rough games down the stretch. Likewise, the loss also showed that they can’t be comfortable with their position in the Eastern Conference standings.

Sign up for our regular 'Islanders Newsletter' for all the latest.