A good chunk of the joy emanating from the Caps three-game road winning streak was tempered by a home-ice loss to the New York Islanders Tuesday night. The Islanders demonstrated very swift skating legs throughout the contest, and when it came down to crunch time in the third period it was their big gun that delivered the 3-2 victory.
New York jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the first eight minutes of the game. Michael Grabner, one of the fastest skaters in the NHL would strike first, set-up nicely by former Cap Keith Aucoin.
As the Caps were looking to clear their defensive zone, Aucoin took away the boards and made a quick feed to an open Grabner, who blasted a drive over the glove of Braden Holtby.
Two and a half minutes later the Isles passing game was even better. Franz Nielsen and Kyle Okposo teamed up to find a wide-open Josh Bailey at the top of the right face-off circle. Bailey scored his second goal in as many games against the Caps with a rising slapshot over the blocking glove of the Caps keeper.
Needing a spark, the Caps got one from their leading point-scorer, Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro took a close range pass from Troy Brouwer and beat Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov on the blocker side. The goal came at 10:05 of the middle period and was a sign of good things to come.
John Carlson would get the home team even at 13:28 in the second period. His long slapshot skipped underneath the right leg pad of the veteran Russian goalie, who reacted as if he wasn’t sure where the drive was headed.
The game would be decided in the third period and at even strength. Neither team’s power-play would produce anything in limited chances in this game. Both power-play groups are ranked in the top five of the NHL, but Washington went 0-for-3 and New York 0-for 2.
For much of the first 50 minutes of the contest the Caps did a solid job of neutralizing the top scoring line of New York. Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Brad Boyes have produced a remarkable amount of the Islanders offense this year and they would steer matters in the Isles favor late in regulation.
With just below six minutes left in regulation, Brooks Laich sent a pass behind the Caps goal to a waiting Mike Green. As Green tried to spin away from a fore-checker, he mishandled the puck, which bounced off the goal frame and into the possession of Moulson. In no time flat Moulson found Tavares in front of the goal and the sharpshooter zipped his 20th goal of the season off the post and into the cage.
The Isles protected Nabokov well from that point on. The Islander goalie finished with 20 saves in racking up his 12th career win against Washington in just 15 tries. On the losing end, Holtby ended his night with 29 stops.
These two teams will meet again in the Caps next home game April 4th. In the meantime, the Caps will get some needed rest and practice before skating in Buffalo on Saturday night, a game you can check out on Comcast SportsNet.