5 Things the Caps Must Do to Get Back into the Series
On paper, the Caps appeared to be the favorites over Jack Capuano's team, but following New York's overtime victory in Game 3, Alex Ovechkin and company sit in a precarious position.
A second loss at Nassau Coliseum would put the team on the brink of elimination, and given that the Caps have held the lead exactly once in the first three outings, a three-game comeback would seem out of the question.
With that being said, there's no reason Barry Trotz's group can't rebound from the bitter defeat on Sunday. Here's a look at five things the Caps will have to do in order to climb back into this series.
5. More Secondary Scoring
So far, the Caps have managed a grand total of six goals in three games, and four of those tallies came during the comeback victory in Game 2.
That won't be enough against the Islanders, and while Washington has become a much more defensively responsible team under Trotz, this is a club that boasts two of the game's best offensive weapons in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
But beyond the pair of stars, usually productive forwards such as Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Curtis Glencross and Eric Fehr have combined for a total of one assist through three games.
Yes, Ovechkin's got to find the net in order for the Caps to get back into the series, but with 15 shots in the series, one has to think that will happen, as his current shooting percentage of 6.7 percent is less than half of what it was during the regular season.
Assuming Ovechkin and Backstrom (five points combined) do what's expected of them, Washington will still need more offense from the bottom-three forward lines, as Holtby can't be expected to be as spectacular as he was in Game 3 every night.
4. Standout Performances from Holtby
In Game 1, Holtby wasn't at his best, and that was one of many factors that led to the Caps getting thoroughly dominated at home.
After missing Friday night's tilt, Holtby turned in an exceptional performance on the road in Game 3, and despite the loss, Washington wouldn't have made it beyond regulation if not for him.
It is vital that the Capitals manage more than two goals (their current goals-per-game average in this series), but even then, Holtby's got to continue to be the rock that he has been for Washington all year long.
While he's certainly proved his mettle in the postseason—the then-rookie led the Caps to a Round 1 triumph that eliminated the defending champion Boston Bruins in 2011-12—Holtby's now regarded as a No. 1 goaltender, and he has to continue to live up to that billing.
As a former fifth-rounder, Holtby's used to exceeding expectations. If he even meets his current ones, the Capitals have a very good chance of advancing.
3. Better Effort at Even Strength
The Capitals have not been producing on the power play like they did during the regular season, and that's played a role in this team tallying just six goals in three games.
Fortunately, Washington's been perfect on the penalty kill during this series, but unless the Caps can match the Islanders at five-on-five, it's tough to see how they'll take three of the next five games.
Assuming the power play doesn't play a major factor during the rest of the series, the Capitals will have to limit the turnovers while simultaneously generating more scoring chances, because they simply haven't tested Jaroslav Halak enough up to this point.
Holtby outplayed Halak in Game 3, but given that the Islanders out-chanced the Caps by leaps and bounds, it didn't matter.
Washington has five even-strength goals on the series to New York's eight, and if not for Holtby, that gap could be much wider.
2. Overcome Injuries
Every team in the NHL encounters injuries during the postseason, each testing the depth and mettle of a hockey club at the most important time of the year.
Well, that moment has arrived for the Caps, as Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post is reporting that pivot Eric Fehr is out for at least Games 4 and 5 and top-six forward Marcus Johansson may be sidelined as well.
If that's the case, these are two sizable holes in the lineup for Washington to fill. Perhaps this may come as a surprise, but Fehr's likely harder to replace since he's developed into a quality shutdown center, and despite Michael Latta's snarl, he's far from an ideal candidate to slide into the middle on the third line.
As for Johansson, if he's unable to play, look for Andre Burakovsky to get the call, as the former first-rounder's speed, skill and poise with the puck give him the ability to generate offense alongside the team's top weapons.
Washington managed to overcome the absence of Holtby in Game 2, and to get back in this series, it may well have to do it without a pair of forwards who combined for 39 goals and 80 points during the regular season.
1. Score the First Goal
In Game 4 and beyond, Washington has to make it a top priority to score first, as it has surrendered the opening tally in each of their three postseason tilts against the Islanders.
Every team aims to get on the board first, but it's of particular importance for this club, as the Caps led the NHL in winning percentage (.860) when scoring first during the regular season, according to NHL.com.
And as we saw during Games 1 and 3, the Islanders have done well holding onto leads, which is why Washington's only lead of the series came when Jason Chimera beat Halak for the game-winning goal in Game 2.
An early goal in Game 4 would at least partially take the hometown crowd out of the game and, perhaps more importantly, set the tone for the rest of the night.
The Caps clearly have the firepower to come back against almost anyone, but in the tight-checking postseason, it's always better to be playing from a position of strength. For the Capitals, that would entail scoring first.