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Capitals 4, Islanders 1

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

Revenge against the Washington Capitals will have to wait. 

Thursday’s game had all the trademarks of a payback game; physicality, intensity and lingering bitterness, but ultimately lacked the vengeance, as the Islanders dropped a 4-1 decision to their Metropolitan Division rivals at Barclays Center. 

“The effort was there, but we didn’t necessarily bear down enough,” Travis Hamonic said.

The teams, who played an intense, physical seven-game series in April, took a few minutes to feel each other out, but by the midway point of the first period they rekindled the fiery play that characterized that series. 

Thomas Hickey was one of the Islanders who gave and got it on Thursday night, kickstarting the physicality with a big hit on Islanders’ nemesis Tom Wilson. Wilson responded with a hit that winded Hickey and the Islanders’ defenseman was caught with a check to the head by Washington’s Marcus Johansson, though Hickey said he did not feel the hit was malicious. 

“The body was sort of flying around tonight,” Hickey said. “This is a high-intensity game to start and these things happen out there.”

In the midst of the hit parade, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead. Jason Chimera – who had three legitimate grade-A scoring chances Thursday – gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 5:45, his sharp-angled shot hitting an Islanders’ stick and deflecting past Jaroslav Halak. Alex Ovechkin beat Halak – who was making his first start since Dec. 21 – five-hole with a wrister off the rush at 15:45. 

“We had a sluggish start,” John Tavares said. “We seemed to be a little slow after three days off, just not sharp early on and it cost us, especially against that team. We were playing catch-up all night.”

The Islanders settled into their game in the second period. Brock Nelson boosted the energy in the rink with his 14th goal of the season, a snap shot from the slot that eluded Braden Holtby at 1:59. The Islanders played off the emotion in the crowd, collectively stepping up their game.

Halak looked sharper and more explosive in the second period, namely sliding from one side of the net to the other to stop a one-timer from Chimera. Rookie Adam Pelech earned his keep for the night for dropping down and blocking an Ovechkin one-timer on an Islanders’ penalty kill.

“He played with guts, he played hard, his gap was good, he was physical tonight and I thought he did a really good job for us on the back end,” head coach Jack Capuano said of Pelech.

The Islanders best chance to tie the game came on a late second period power play. Tavares sent a puck through the crease, as the Islanders teed off and created chaos in front of Holtby. Despite surging and swarming around the Capitals’ net, the Islanders couldn't capitalize and the tying goal eluded them.

“We had some chances to get back into it and we weren’t able to get some,” Tavares said. “I had a couple there and have to find a way to put it in. Makes a big difference at that point in the game and we would have felt a lot different heading into the intermission.”

It proved to be costly, as Nate Schmidt put the Capitals up 3-1 with a blast through Halak six seconds after the Islanders’ power play expired.

The Capitals entered the game 20-0-1 when leading after two periods and limited the Islanders’ chances in the final frame. Nicklas Backstrom scored an empty-netter with 2:42 to play. Braden Holtby, who leads the NHL with 26 wins, made 34 saves in the win.

“The way [Holtby] is playing right now, that team, they score two or three goals and the game is over,” Capuano said. “You spot those guys a couple of goals… they’re going to be tough to beat.”

Halak finished the game with 34 saves on 37 shots.

The Islanders and Capitals renew hostilities on Feb. 4 in Washington. In the meantime, the Islanders head to Philadelphia for a Saturday matinee against the Flyers. Puck drop is at 1 p.m.

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