The New York Islanders will be competing in a slightly altered division when the NHL season begins this week. Leading up to opening night, I’ll be looking at how the Islanders’ roster compares to other teams in the East Division.
We’ve already released three articles in this series, which you can read here:
In today’s article, we’ll assess how the Islanders compare against the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals have a few key aging players up front but the forward group remains very strong. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin may be on the wrong side of 30 years old but all can still certainly produce, while Evgeny Kuznetsov can consistently provide offense and Jakub Vrana took a huge step last season.
Even Tom Wilson has produced at a high level for the past two seasons as well. The team also has experience in their bottom-six, in the form of Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik. It should come as no surprise to hear me say that the Islanders don’t have the star power or the forward depth to match the Capitals offensively.
On defense, the Capitals will turn to John Carlson, who led the NHL in points amongst defenseman last season.
Dmitry Orlov will also play a key role, while Brenden Dillon will provide defensive stability. The Capitals also added veteran Zdeno Chara this offseason, while Nick Jensen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Trevor van Riemsdyk can provide depth as well. Other than Carlson, Washington’s defense won’t provide much offense but for the most part, it’ll be a group that’s strong in their own end, even with Michal Kempny out. This is similar to New York’s defensive structure. Ryan Pulock is the most well-rounded defenseman on the team, while Andy Greene, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech will provide defensive stability for the Islanders. Both defense groups are in a fairly good spot and while the Capitals may have the highest-scoring defensemen, the reliability of New York’s group will balance out the comparison.
Although Braden Holtby wasn't the same goalie over the last few seasons, the Capitals are still taking a risk by relying on Ilya Samsonov as a starter, after just 26 NHL games. Samsonov was good last season and does project as a quality starter but the team is using an inexperienced tandem. This may give the Islanders an advantage in goal, based on the fact that they also have a young, high-end goalie in Ilya Sorokin but they also have experience in the form of Semyon Varlamov, which is what the Capitals are lacking. As a result, the Islanders have the advantage in net.
The Islanders and Capitals should be fairly evenly matched once again this season. Washington will still have their high-scoring offense but we can’t forget that New York took out the Capitals in five games during the 2020 playoffs.
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Here’s today’s poll question (results and discussion will be posted in a future article):
Do you think the Islanders will finish ahead of the Capitals in the standings this season?