In recent years Nassau Coliseum has treated the Capitals very well, but not this time. Saturday’s visit is the only one the Caps will make to this old barn this season (barring a playoff meeting), and it is one of the last with the Islanders heading for Brooklyn soon. Today the home team scored three special-teams goals in the third period to defend its home ice.
Washington did not look particularly sharp from the outset in this contest. The first 20 minutes had a sleepy feel to them for the visitors.
The Islanders, wrapping up a seven-game homestand, had the better skating legs and would jump out to a 1-0 lead thanks to Franz Nielsen and Josh Bailey.
Working on a 2-on-1 break with Bailey, Nielsen made a slick move on Caps defender Karl Alzner freeing himself up to make a backhand pass. The feed sent Bailey in alone on Philipp Grubauer, who was making his 1st NHL start in goal. Bailey steered a forehand shot beneath the rookie keeper at 10:46 of the frame.
The Caps did not wait long into the second period to tie it up. Skating with a 5-on-4 man-advantage, John Carlson blasted a shot that caromed in front of Islander goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Joel Ward and Mathieu Perreault converged on the rebound. To my eye, it was Perreault who banked a shot in off the skate of defenseman Travis Hamonic, but the officials credited the power-play strike to Ward at the 1:26 mark.
The 1-1 tie lasted about nine minutes. The Isles have several young forwards who can really skate and one of them, Casey Cizikas, was able to sneak a snapshot between the blocker and body of Grubauer to grab the lead back for New York.
The final 20 minutes of the game were rather eventful and it looked for a time like the Caps would be in position to win for the ninth time in 11 tries in this building.
Nicklas Backstrom gave the guests hope with a slapper that beat Nabokov on the glove side at 7:09 of the third. It was the end-result of a pretty passing sequence between Backstrom, Alzner, and Eric Fehr.
Unfortunately for Washington, their dreaded penalty problem reared its ugly head. Mike Ribeiro was called for high-sticking and a few choice words plus his penalty box-door-slamming reaction earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct call on top of it.
John Tavares, the Islanders top threat, would take over. He cashed in by slugging a rebound over Grubauer at 12:13 of the period.
Jeff Schultz then took a double-minor for high-sticking Andrew MacDonald 22 seconds after the Tavares goal. With another four minutes of penalty time up on the scoreboard, Tavares had another short-range look on a rebound at 12:43. The puck he shot struck the padded bar that dissects the goal and came flying out quickly. The officials signaled no-goal, which Tavares protested immediately.
The live play would carry on for several minutes before Matt Moulson jammed home a centering pass from Brad Boyes. After that stoppage in play, the initial shot of Tavares was ruled a goal by video review in Toronto, which meant the minutes leading up-to and including the Moulson tally were erased.
So the Islanders did have a 4-2 lead, but the Caps received a few bonus minutes to attempt their comeback (did someone say daylight savings time?).
The Capitals were awarded a power-play with 3:10 to play in regulation, but allowed Nielsen to sneak away on a 2-on-1 break with Michael Grabner. Nielsen ripped a shot over Grubauer’s glove to salt the victory at 16:59.
Grubauer finished up with 40 saves, and acquitted himself well in his first big-league start.
Braden Holtby should be back in goal Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center against the New York Rangers. That game has a 12:30 p.m. start time and can be seen on NBC.