Round One Odds: Washington Capitals (-155) vs. New York Islanders (+135)
The New York Islanders missed the chance to clinch home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs on Saturday against Columbus, losing 5-4 in a shootout. Tomorrow, the Isles will have to open their first round series with the Capitals at the Verizon Center in Washington (7:00 p.m. Eastern). (Scroll to the bottom for the full schedule.)
New York and Washington split the season series with two wins apiece and both finished with 101 points. But they enter the postseason feeling a little differently about their recent play. Washington won five of seven to close the year, while New York dropped six of nine and surrendered second-place in the Metropolitan Division to their playoff foe.
The Islanders will look to captain John Tavares to reverse their fortunes. Tavares narrowly missed out on his first Art Ross Trophy this year, getting eclipsed on the last day of the season by Dallas’ Jamie Benn.
Tavares, a potential regular season MVP, has been the leader of a potent New York offense all season, helping the team finish fourth in the league in goals per game (3.0). He led the squad in both goals (38) and assists (48) by a wide margin, though winger Kyle Okposo did manage 51 points in just 60 games due to injury.
The defense was a different story. New York struggled to keep the puck out of its net all year, giving up just over 2.8 GPG. Making matters worse, minute-eating defenseman Travis Hamonic is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury.
The Islanders missed the playoffs last season playoffs and were ousted in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2013. The team hasn’t won a playoff series in 20 years. But the squad is confident its limited postseason experience will keep them calm going into game one.
“That experience [against Pittsburgh in 2013] helps us. I don’t think we’re going to have that shock in Game 1 like we did in that series. You know, we spotted them a game,” said Okposo. “You can’t do that during a series.”
The Capitals, meanwhile, are led by their own Hart Trophy hopeful, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin already has the “Rocket” Richard Trophy waiting for him after piling up 53 goals during the regular season.
“Not only does he score goals, but he’s physical and he does a lot of things [other than] just put the puck in the net,” Tavares said of the Russian sniper.
As a whole, the Washington offense wasn’t far behind New York’s, averaging 2.9 goals per game (sixth in the league). They also boasted the league’s top power play and a much better team defense that surrendered just 2.4 goals per night.
Washington has also won six of the last ten games against the Islanders, with four coming in overtime.
The goalie matchup in this series will pit Braden Holtby (41-20-10, 2.22 GAA, .923 SV%), fresh off a breakout regular season, against the up-and-down Jaroslav Halak (38-17-4, 2.43 GAA, .914 SV%).
The Caps, who have home-ice and are playing stronger of late, are -155 to take the best-of-seven series. New York is a +135 underdog. (Looking past the first round, the Islanders are +850 to win the Eastern Conference and +1600 to lift the Cup; Washington is +650 and +1200, respectively.)
The core of this Washington team has experience first-round success before, winning its quarterfinal matchup in 2009, 2011, and 2012. Couple that with the fact they’re trending in the right direction at the right time, and Washington -155 looks like the better play.
Washington vs. NY Islanders Schedule:
Wednesday, April 15, 7 p.m. NY Islanders at Washington
Friday, April 17, 7 p.m. NY Islanders at Washington
Sunday, April 19, Noon Washington at NY Islanders
Tuesday, April 21, 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Islanders
*Thursday, April 23, TBD NY Islanders at Washington
*Saturday, April 25, TBD Washington at NY Islanders
*Monday, April 27, TBD NY Islanders at Washington
(Photo credit: Me (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)