The New York Islanders faced the Washington Capitals eight times last season, with the Capitals proving to be a worthy opponent as they finished with six wins against the Isles. In the games that the Isles did win, the Isles won 1-0 in a narrow margin and the other a more showy 8-4 win.
With the transactions Washington has made this offseason, I would expect another hard-fought battle between New York & Washington in the 2021-22 season as the Capitals either kept or acquired some big players to give them high hopes in the Metropolitan division once again. For starters, the biggest name that comes to mind with anyone mentioning the Caps is of course the captain, Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin signed a five-year deal worth $47.5 million in July. He has always proved to be a tough player to play against and there is no secret in the importance of needing to find ways to shut him down on the ice, preventing him from gaining any room. Last season he recorded 24 goals and 18 assists for the Caps, but only scored once and had two assists out of the eight games played with the Isles. Don’t expect that to be the norm for Ovi, however, as he’s chasing Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, and even at 36-years old this season, he’ll still be one of the best goal scorers in the league. If New York can once again keep him off the scoresheet, it can give them some room to take a hold of more of their matchups.
Another player that the Capitals re-signed is goaltender Ilya Samsonov to a one year contract worth $2 million. When in net for the Caps, he bagged three wins and one loss for them against the Isles last season. Samsonov finished the season with a 13-4 record with a save percentage of .908%. It’s an impressive statistic nonetheless, but both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have a greater percentage at .918 and .929 for their 2020-21 regular season. However, after re-signing Samsonov, Washington still presents a strong defense between the posts that New York needs to adapt better to in order to switch around a 3-1 loss to a 3-1 win. It all starts with strong forwards Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and the return of Anders Lee to lead the way for the Isles and create those dangerous plays in front of the net to either score or outwork Samsonov in order to tire him out and gain those much needed goals.
On the topic of Washington’s defense, a player that has yet to be addressed is Zdeno Chara. As of right now he hasn’t been re-signed or picked up by any team. He was under a one year contract with the Capitals last season and as of right now, there are rumors that due to a lot of interest around the league for him, he might not return to the Capitals lineup, although, there is also potential that he may retire from the league altogether due to his age. Losing him on their bench, Washington will have a huge hole to fill. Not only was he a strong defensive player, but his sheer size gave him so much ability on the ice to stick check and knock the puck away from opposing players as well as be able to win those physical fights that broke out. He was a natural fit and came to the Capitals with chemistry with the other players that definitely added strength to the way they played.
There were a few examples in the 2020-21 season on how if one player on the team isn’t aligned with the rest, the locker room can fall apart. Look at Tony DeAngelo with the New York Rangers and Evander Kane with the San Jose Sharks. Both teams’ flaw is/were instability in player relationships and it reflected in how they played. The situations aren’t the same, but if Chara doesn’t return, the chemistry effect is similar, and the Isles can take advantage of this missing link against Washington.
When looking ahead to next season, the Islanders aren’t going to win every game against Washington, but they have the potential to win the majority. Even though the Isles lost players such as Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft, the Isles have a strong base and new players such as Zach Parise coming on that can prove to be of value in their fight against the Capitals. The Islanders’ first pick of the draft, Aatu Räty, will be interesting to watch if/how he can fight his way into New York’s lineup and if he can make an impact in these bigger matchups and help the Isles succeed.
Follow on Twitter @RepettoBri