The Washington Capitals edged out the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night at the Capital One Arena – but the Caps’ superstars phoned it in.
By Mark Reilly
Anybody who picked Taylor Chorney, Lars Eller, Alex Chiasson and Chandler Stephenson as their go-to Capitals in his or her fantasy league is happy today. The foursome combined for seven points in Thursday’s match-up against a New York Islanders team that had won two straight.
Eller scored twice and had an assist; Chorney scored one goal, as did Chiasson – while Stephenson tallied two assists as the Caps did just enough to secure the 4-3 win. Tom Wilson, who played alongside Eller and Stephenson on the Caps’ third line, also registered an assist – making it a stellar night for the bottom-six forwards in Washington. The chemistry seen on the third line was palpable.
Superstars Didn’t Show Up Against Islanders
Meanwhile, Washington’s ‘superstar’ foursome playing among their top-six pack of forwards, namely Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, barely registered any impact Thursday with zero points and just three shots between them. That’s not good enough; the top-six players need to perform better than that and produce more offense, or it will be a long season with no postseason. That’s the harsh reality for the 2017-18 Capitals club.
The Capitals had only 19 shots the entire game – including an appalling two shots in the third period in which they were out-shot 16 to two. Goaltender Braden Holtby made 35 saves on the night, which – along with the exploits of Eller and his bottom-six mates – was the sole reason the Capitals won this contest. After the game, Holtby told reporters that his team was ‘lucky’ to win; he’s correct. The Caps usually lose games like the one last night. The game was similar in style to the Capitals’ bad losses this season – including the 8-2 humiliation in Philadelphia. Holtby’s best save of the night came at the 4:58 minute mark in the third when a give-away behind the net by Dmitry Orlov led to a close-range shot from the Islanders’ Andrew Ladd. Holtby maintained the Caps’ 3-2 lead at the time by quickly gobbling up Ladd’s wrister. There were other standout saves from Holtby during the game.
Lars Eller Takes Things Into His Own Hands
The real story last night though was that of Eller. The big Dane was the most determined and most dynamic offensive player for the Capitals against the Islanders. Along with his two goals (including the ultimate game winner) Eller drew two penalties and sat for one himself in easily his best game as a Capital to date. He was also a standout player in the Capitals three-game Western road trip which culminated Sunday night in Calgary. He may be overdue for a promotion to either of the top two lines, although doing so would upset the synergy that is currently working on his third line. It’s a perennial problem for the Caps: getting all four lines to play to their strengths.
“Sometimes you have some games where most things are just going right for you,” Eller told the media after game. “And I think tonight was one of those games for our line and I think we even could’ve had a couple more.” The third line definitely showed the type of togetherness required for wins, and the top two lines should take notice. Eller’s teammates were quick to praise the big center:
“[Eller] was flying all over the ice, both sides of the puck,” Chorney stated to reporters. “When Lars is moving his feet like that, he’s such a strong guy. He’s tough to contain. You could tell he was playing with a lot of confidence tonight, and he got rewarded for it. A bunch of big plays from him.”
Coach’s Commentary Speaks Volume
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz had something to say about his Capitals side actually scoring first in a game – which is a rare occurrence so far this season.
“Well, it was good. It felt strange,” said Trotz. “I didn’t know what to do. We were like, ‘Hey we got one.'”
New York Islanders coach Doug Weight was left wondering how his team lost a game in which they out-shot their opponents by 16 to two in the final stanza:
“Should’ve had it,” said Weight. “It would be nice to have it. It felt like we earned it. We battled. We gave up two shots in the third. It’s disappointing.”
Frankly, the Islanders should’ve had it. If it wasn’t for the Capitals’ third line and their goaltender, the Islanders would’ve had it.
Taking nothing away from Eller, Stephenson, Wilson, and Holtby: the top-six forwards need to show up for the upcoming games or it will be an ugly November. Eller deserved his first-star accolade last night – it was a season-changing game for him.
Capitals: At the Boston Bruins on Saturday, November 4 at 7 PM EDT (NHLN-US, NESN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV)
Islanders: Host the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, November 5 at 6 PM EDT (MSG+, ALT, NHL.TV)