WASHINGTON -- The last game of 2019 sure was not a pretty one. The Capitals and New York Islanders put together a sloppy 60 minutes of play with the Islanders just barely edging out the Caps 4-3 thanks to a dominant third period by goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Here is how the Caps lost.
Holtby just didn't have it
Braden Holtby is and will continue to be a major topic of conversation this season as he is on the last year of his contract and his heir-apparent is on the roster and playing pretty well. Whatever conclusions you want to draw from this game are up to you, but the fact is that he just did not have it on Tuesday. This was a bad game.
Not every goal was soft and none were solely his fault, but when the Caps needed to get a save, Holtby just was not able to come up with the big plays to bail out the sloppy play of the team in front of him.
Midway through the first period, Brock Nelson fired a wrister from just outside the faceoff circle and it flat out beat Holtby. There was a bit of a screen from Dmitry Orlov, but Holtby saw the puck and had his glove up to catch it. He just missed it.
Washington managed to take the lead early int he second, but New York tied it less than four minutes later as Casey Cizikas beat Holtby from the high slot. The play game off a bad turnover, both Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson reached out their sticks on the backcheck and someone got a piece of the puck as it knuckled its way past Holtby.
Yes, the knuckling puck certainly handcuffed Holtby and made it a much more difficult save, but those are the saves we are used to seeing from Holtby. Judging from his body language, it was a save Holtby expected himself to make as well.
Later in the second Tom Kuhnhackl beat Holtby to the high short-side as Holtby came off his post too quickly.
It just was not Holtby's day.
This game was a sloppy one from both sides. Neither team could control the puck and a number of goals from both teams came as the result of a turnover. Washington just made more mistakes.
New York's first goal came off a blind pass by Tom Wilson up the ice in the defensive zone that was cut off. Instead of clearing the zone, the Islanders got more offensive zone time and it resulted in Cizikas' first goal. His second goal was the result of a Radko Gudas turnover in the neutral zone.
A between-the-legs deflection
Cizikas' knuckle puck in the second period was his second goal of the game. His first opened the scoring in the game in the first period.
After the Islanders corralled a Wilson pass to keep up the offensive pressure, they cycled the puck bringing it down low and kicking it back up high. Scott Mayfield slung the puck from the blue line to the front and Cizikas got his stick to it and deflected the puck between his legs and past Holtby.
Holtby seemed a bit bewildered after the play and was pleading with the ref. At first glance it certainly looked as if Cizikas and kicked the puck in with his back heel, but the replay showed that he kicked his heel up just as he deflected the puck with his stick.
Third period Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov was good, but not spectacular for the first 40 minutes. He allowed three goals on 21 shots. When the Islanders needed him to be great, however, he was.
The Caps fired 17 shots on goal in the final frame and Varlamov was able to stop every one of them.
Feeling the pressure, New York iced the puck twice in quick succession allowing the Caps to get Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson on the ice. Still, the Caps could not score. The pressure was finally relieved as a shot hit off the post and out of play allowing Varlamov a moment to regroup.
A late penalty kill
Scott Mayfield was called for tripping with exactly one minute left to go in the game. That gave Washington a golden opportunity to tie, but they simply could not get past New York's penalty kill. While the Caps were able to pour on the shots in the third period, the penalty kill kept everything largely to the outside and did not allow many high-danger opportunities with the game on the line in the final minute.
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