Capitals control play for final two periods in shootout win over Islanders

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Andrew Gillis
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Caps control play for final two periods in shootout win over Islanders originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Through the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s game on Long Island, it seemed — outside of goaltender Ilya Samsonov, that is — that Capitals couldn’t do much right. 

The final two periods of regulation, however, were a totally flipped script from the first period.

While the Capitals didn’t score any goals, neither did the Islanders as the two teams battled to a scoreless tie entering a shootout, which the Capitals won 1-0 to retake sole possession of first place in the East Division. 

The underlying play was what the Capitals viewed as the most positive outcome, as they dominated the final 40 minutes of play. 

“I think it was a wakeup call,” defenseman John Carlson said of the first period. “I think we were making mistakes that didn’t need to be made. We were overexerting in some areas and not exerting enough. So there was a number of things that were pretty cut and dry and clear how that wasn’t going to work tonight and against that team. I think once we took a step back and watched what was going on, we made adjustments and challenged ourselves to change the way we were playing.”

The Islanders put 15 shots on Samsonov in the first period, all of which were turned away by the Russian netminder. From there they tallied just 11 more shots, only eight of which came during five-on-five play. The Capitals, for their part, had 24 shots in the final two periods and overtime, 21 of which came at five-on-five play. 

“I think we’re real structured through the neutral zone and so are they,” Carlson said. “If you give them time to sit back and get into the exact look that they want, it’s going to be a lot harder to get into the zone with possession or even a good dump to make a play for it. I think we moved the puck way quicker in the second and third and we hung them out there, we had extended shifts and it kind of works like that.”

Against one of the league’s best teams at creating high-danger opportunities on offense, the Capitals allowed zero five-on-five high-danger chances in the final 40 minutes during even strength play. The Islanders mustered just one on a powerplay in the third period. 

So while Samsonov kept the Capitals out of trouble in the first period, the entire lineup lifted him for the last two periods. 

“I probably liked best that we were in the offensive zone,” coach Peter Laviolette said of preventing high-danger chances. “It is very difficult to generate those chances that you are talking about if they are playing defense so spent way too much time in our end in the first period. Chances were heavily in their favor in the first period and then I thought it flipped in the last 40 minutes.”

The Islanders play a game that makes it difficult to put shots on net, as they’re well disciplined under coach Barry Trotz. They tallied 17 shot blocks against the Capitals, which makes generating offense especially difficult. 

Washington knows, especially over the next two games (both against New York), it will have to generate more offense than it did Thursday night.

But as far as defense goes, the better teams rarely have to play it. And that kept the Islanders out of the Capitals’ zone for the majority of the game, and more importantly, kept them off the scoreboard.

“I think from a speed standpoint, execution standpoint, that was really the majority of our problem in the first period and because of that, we end up with zone time and high danger chances coming against us so when that flipped, the game seemed to flip as well,” Laviolette said.