Stanley Cup Playoffs 2020: The ultimate Capitals-Islanders series preview


At long last, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here and just a few months late. The Capitals' quest for the Stanley Cup begins with a tantalizing first round series against former head coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders.

Here is everything you need to know.

Round 1: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders


Game 1: Wednesday, 8/12 at 3 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 2: Friday, 8/14 at 8 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 3: Sunday, 8/16 at 12 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 4: Tuesday, 8/18 at 8 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Washington)
Game 5 (If Necessary): Thursday, 8/20 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)
Game 6 (If Necessary): Saturday, 8/22 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)
Game 7 (If Necessary): Sunday, 8/23 at Time TBD. (Channel TBD)

See the full detailed schedule here.


Washington Capitals Team Stats

  • 41-20-8, .652 points percentage, first in the Metropolitan Division
  • 1-1-1 in the round robin, 3rd place finish in the Eastern Conference
  • 3.42 goals per game (2nd)
  • 3.07 goals against per game (18th)
  • 19.4-percent power play percentage (17th)
  • 82.6-percent penalty kill percentage (6th)

New York Islanders Team Stats

  • 35-23-10, .588 points percentage, 5th in the Metropolitan Division
  • Beat the Florida Panthers in four games in the qualifying round
  • 2.78 goals per game (22nd)
  • 2.79 goals against per game (tied for 9th)
  • 17.3 power play percentage (24th)
  • 80.7-percent penalty kill percentage (15th)

Washington Capitals Top Performers

Goals: 1) Alex Ovechkin: 48, 2) T.J. Oshie: 26, 3) Jakub Vrana: 25
Assists: 1) John Carlson: 60, 2) Nicklas Backstrom: 42, 3) Evgeny Kuznetsov: 33
Points: 1) John Carlson: 75, 2) Alex Ovechkin: 67, 3) Nicklas Backstrom: 54

New York Islanders Top Performers

Goals: 1) Brock Nelson: 26, 2) Anders Lee: 20, 3) Mathew Barzal: 19
Assists: 1) Mathew Barzal: 41, 2) Josh Bailey: 29, 3) Brock Nelson: 28
Points: 1) Mathew Barzal: 60, 2) Brock Nelson: 54, 3) Josh Bailey: 43 / Anders Lee: 43

Washington Capitals Goaltending

Braden Holtby: 48 GP, 25-14-6 record, .897 save percentage, 3.11 GAA, 0 shutouts
Ilya Samsonov: 26 GP, 16-6-2 record, .913 save percentage, 2.55, 1 shutout


New York Islanders Goaltending

Semyon Varlamov: 45 GP, 19-14-6 record, .914 save percentage, 2.62 GAA, 2 shutouts
Thomas Greiss: 31 GP, 16-9-4 record, .913 save percentage, 2.74 GAA, 0 shutouts

Head-to-head record

Caps and Islanders split season series 2-2-0

Oct. 4: 2-1 Capitals win

Ilya Samsonov allowed only one goal in his NHL debut as the Capitals spoiled New York's home-opener.

Dec. 31: 4-3 Islanders win

The last game of 2019 sure was not a pretty one. The Capitals and Islanders put together a sloppy 60 minutes of play with the Islanders just barely edging out the Caps thanks to a dominant third period by Varlamov.

Jan. 18: 6-4 Capitals win

Down 4-1, the Capitals scored five goals in the third period for the incredible 6-4 comeback win. Ovechkin scored a hat trick pulling him in a tie with Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time in goals.

Feb. 10: 5-3 Islanders win

Washington was down 5-1 before it finally seemed to wake up, but it was too late for the comeback. The Caps would pull to within two goals, but no closer.

Three keys of the series for Washington

What's not on this list: The 'former coach' dynamic: The fact that Trotz is the team's former coach is not meaningless, but it's not going to determine the series either. The impact he will have against his old team is a bit overblown because it is an easy storyline to watch. The fact is, most players and coaches on each team have some sort of history with each other at the NHL level so I am not going to say Trotz has an advantage just because he knows a lot of the Caps players. The Islanders know the Caps and the Caps know the Islanders. There's no major advantage there.

1. Health: The Caps have a very deep roster so depth is rarely a concern, but this year there are three irreplaceable players on the roster: Ovechkin, Carlson and Holtby. If the Caps lose any of those three players, they will lose.

Ovechkin is an...Eastern European device that rarely malfunctions (I think that's how the saying goes) so I'm not worried about him. Carlson missed the entire round robin after suffering an injury in the exhibition game. Not only is he the team's best defenseman, but he's also a righty. Considering how much the team struggled to find a right defenseman to play on the second pair, Washington cannot afford to lose their right defenseman from the top pair. He has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL this season and Washington needs him back.

In net, the loss of Samsonov to injury means the crease belongs to Holtby. The Samsonov safety net is not there, there really is no one to turn to if Holtby struggles or gets injured. Backing up Holtby will be Vitek Vanecek who has zero NHL experience. Holtby is going to have to be the guy this postseason.



2. The Caps' offense: Washington's biggest weakness is defense, but improving offensively may actually be the key to a Capitals win.

The Islanders are a very difficult team to score against. It doesn't matter if they play more conservatively overall, they are not going to leave themselves exposed in their own end. In the regular season, New York gave up 2.79 goals per game. In the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers, the Islanders gave up even fewer, holding the Panthers to just 1.75 goals per game.

However much Washington is able to shore up its defense, it's not going to be better than the Islanders. The Caps cannot out-defense New York...but they can out-score them.

The matchup that is going to determine who wins this series is the Caps' offense against the Islanders' defense. For Washington to win that matchup, the offense has to be better than it was in the round robin.

Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were all held to a single point in the round robin while Ovechkin and Vrana were held off the scoresheet entirely.


A lengthy pause to the NHL season and a quick jump back into action was always going to benefit the defense more than the offense across the league. The timing and structure of an offense takes time to develop and Washington's offense will no doubt improve with time. Having said that, they don't have much time to wait. The Caps are now in a best-of-seven series against one of the top defenses in the NHL and the offense has to perform if Washington hopes to advance.

3. Defensive breakdowns: While I believe Washington's offense is more important than it's defense in this series, the defense is their biggest weakness and does need to improve somewhat. As I wrote above, the Caps are not going to out-defense the Islanders, but they can't just give up breakdown after breakdown either. It just can't be as bad as we have seen it at times over the course of the season.

In the round robin loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, all three goals Washington gave up were on blatant defensive breakdowns. Radko Gudas turned the puck over at the goal line and Kuznetsov twice was drawn out from in front of the net when it was his responsibility to cover that area once the defense attacked the puck carrier. What would have happened if the Caps just did not give up those egregious defensive breakdowns? Maybe they still would have lost -- they did not play well in basically any facet in that game -- but they would have at least given themselves a chance just by cutting out the blatant mistakes.


Any team in the league can score on breakdowns as egregious as the ones the Caps coughed up against Philadelphia, even a defense-first team like New York. Washington does not need a great defense to beat the Islanders, but it can't be awful either.

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