Isles open the series against the Caps as underdogs with the O/U set at 5.5 for Game One
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here for New York State. After the Sabres missed out on the Qualifying Round, the Empire State only had two teams representing them in the NHL Bubble. One of those teams was sent home while the New York Islanders were able to advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will face a team in the Capitals that they are all too familiar with.
Before we preview the matchup between the Isles and the Caps, let’s take a look back at how the Islanders got here. At the time of the NHL pause, New York had played in 68 games for a record of 35-23-10, giving them 80 points on the season. This record was good enough to earn New York the seventh seed in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and a chance to play the Florida Panthers for a spot in the playoffs. The Isles were able to make the most of this opportunity as they would go on to win the series three games to one. The Islanders played stout defense, which is unsurprising for Barry Trotz’s team. A pleasant surprise though was the Isles’ scoring offense. New York was able to score 13 goals in four matchups against the Panthers for an average of 3.25 goals per game, which was much higher than their regular-season average. Now, the Islanders have an incredibly tough task ahead of them as they get set to face off against the number two seed in the Eastern Conference in the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals and Islanders are familiar foes. This series marks the eighth time the Caps and Isles have faced off in the postseason. New York currently leads the all-time postseason series, but the Washington Capitals did beat the Islanders the last time they faced off in the playoffs (a seven-game series in 2015 the Caps won 4-3). While five years has brought a lot of change to both these franchises, I worry the end result of this series may be the same when all is said and done.
There are several differences between now and 2015, but there are two main factors I am focusing on when looking at this matchup. The first “x-factor” is the Capitals are no longer postseason duds. For years, it was a known fact that the Washington Capitals could never get the monkey off their back and make a run at the Stanley Cup. From 2007-2017, the Capitals reached the Stanley Cup zero times despite finishing first or second in their division NINE TIMES! That all changed in 2018. The Capitals would go on a run, defeating the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Lightning, and Golden Knights for the teams first Stanley Cup championship. For the longest time, Washington would shoot themselves in the foot and get in their own way when it came time for the playoffs. Now though, they look calm, collected, and ready for the postseason. They are no longer the team you expect to make mistakes. Now, they are the team you worry about because they have proven they know how to get things done in the playoffs. Their previous experiences and all-around talent make them one of the deadliest teams in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The other “x-factor” that I think will have a major impact on this series is Barry Trotz. So yeah, remember how we just discussed how the Washington Capitals were a joke in the playoffs, and they could never get the job done when it mattered? Well, Barry Trotz was the guy that coached them to that Stanley Cup victory. So how did the Capitals reward Trotz for his efforts? How would the franchise honor the man who was able to turn perennial playoff duds into champions? Well, Trotz ended up resigning over a contract dispute with the team. It’s as if the Capitals said, “thanks for helping us reach greatness, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” 14 days after leading the Caps to a Stanley Cup victory, Trotz was named the new coach of the New York Islanders. I am certain Barry Trotz is still thinking about how he was mistreated by the franchise and had to leave because they wouldn’t honor his contract requests. This is going to be an opportunity to say “I told you so” for Trotz, which is why I like the Isles’ chances in this series.
So let’s look at the actual matchup taking place today at 3:00 PM EST. This is a classic matchup of defense vs. offense and grit/strength vs. style/speed. Trotz and his Isles like to hit you and play strong defense. This is perfectly exemplified by the fact that the Islanders had the fifth-best goals-against average of all 24 teams participating in the postseason. Although the numbers haven’t been great for the Caps in the postseason, they still finished the regular season with second-most goals scored per game. I like the way the Islanders play, but I have confidence in the Capitals to be able to go out there and hit the Isles back when they get punched in the mouth. Washington wins the first game of a seven-game series without hitting the over.