The New York Islanders were happy to have Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen back in the lineup, but it wasn’t quite enough as the visiting Washington Capitals skated away with a 2-1 victory Thursday at the Nassau Coliseum.
Alex Ovechkin assisted on both Washington goals while Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist for the Caps. Rookie goalie Braden Holtby made 24 saves to earn the win. Michael Grabner scored the lone goal for the Isles.
The big news for the Isles was the return of wing Kyle Okposo. The former first round pick made his 2010-11 season debut after suffering a shoulder injury in training camp. He played 18:05 with one shot on goal and finished the game with a minus-one rating.
Okposo was glad to return to the lineup but definitely felt there were times when he felt the effects of the long layoff.
“I felt all right,” he said. “The timing was a little off but other than that my legs felt good and my lungs felt good. After I got that first hit out of the way, I knew my shoulder was fine.”
His teammates were also glad to have Okposo back in the lineup. “For being out that long, he looked great,” center Zenon Konopka said. “We’re excited to have him back, not just on the ice but in the dressing room as well. He’s a huge part of our team and getting a boost like that midseason is unbelievable.”
The Isles repeated their troubling habit of giving up a goal early in the game as Jason Chimera deflected home a centering pass by Alex Ovechkin past Isles starter Rick DiPietro just 3:41 into the game. Okposo was on the ice for the first goal.
“Backstrom was coming in there and I was back-checking on him,” Okposo said. “I knew he was looking for Ovechkin and I just pulled back at the last second. It kind of slipped through my legs and by me and that was all the time that he needed to pass it in front.”
This marked the seventh time in the last eight games that the Isles allowed a goal in the first five minutes of the game.
“Consistency is a problem for young players,” Konopka explained when asked why his club has had trouble early in games recently. “It’s something we know is an issue, we’ve addressed it but we’re going to still have to harp on it because it’s killing us right now.”
Backstrom increased the Washington lead to 2-0 early in the second period when Ovechkin powered down the left wing and then drove to the net. DiPietro made the initial save but Backstrom was there to poke home the rebound. The Caps maintained their two-goal lead after two periods.
Grabner managed to get the Isles on the board at the 5:15 mark of the third period by using his speed. He took a pass from Josh Bailey, beat Caps defenseman John Carlson to the puck and then lifted a backhander over Holtby to pull the Isles to within one.
“Bails [Bailey] had the puck on his stick and I knew he was going to flip it,” Grabner said. “It was a good chip by him and I just used my speed to get around the defenseman.”
The other reason the Isles fell short in this game was their failure with the man advantage. New York had plenty of chances but finished the game 0-for-6 on the power play with just eight shots on goal.
“We had great zone time, we had good looks,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano said. “We were spreading them out. We had net presence a few times, but instead of getting pucks to the net, we were moving it down low and back up top, east-west. We didn’t seem to get the puck through.”
The Islanders head to Buffalo where they will face the Sabres in the first of a home-and-home series. The two teams will meet again Sunday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum.
Rob Schremp and Kevin Poulin were healthy scratches for the Isles while Milan Jurcina sat out due to an injury he suffered against the Devils. Eric Fehr, Brian Fahey and goalie Michal Neuvirth were the Caps scratches.
DiPietro played despite missing practice yesterday with flu-like symptoms. He received IV fluids after the game and did not speak to reporters.
The Capitals dominated the faceoff circle, winning 62 percent of the draws. Gordon Boyd won 12 of the 14 faceoffs he took.
Washington also had 20 blocked shots to just eight for the Isles. Mike Green led the Caps with seven blocked shots.