- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Washington Capitals wrapped up the 2010s as the winningest NHL team of the decade, but they couldn’t add one more win to the tally on New Year’s Eve.

Casey Cizikas scored two goals, and former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and his New York Islanders earned a 4-3 win at Washington on Tuesday afternoon, marking the Capitals‘ first back-to-back losses in regulation all season.

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice for his first multi-goal game since Nov. 11. Tom Wilson also scored and Braden Holtby, named to his fifth straight NHL All-Star Game this week, made just 18 saves.

The Capitals created chances for themselves to tie the game in the third period, smothering the Islanders and holding them to just four shots on goal. With a minute left, Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield was called for tripping T.J. Oshie, so the Capitals sent Holtby to the bench for a 6-on-4 scenario.

But the Islanders saved or blocked four Capitals shots in that final minute to preserve their lead.



“We obviously knew they were gonna be changing, sit back,” Holtby said. “We were coached by him (Trotz) for a long time and that’s how difficult it is to come back against that system. I thought we put pucks (on net), they gave it a chance to go in. It just didn’t go our way.”

The Capitals (27-9-5, 59 points) allowed New York (25-10-3, 53 points) to gain on them in the Metropolitan Division standings, which also feature the Penguins, Flyers and Hurricanes lurking not far off from Washington.

“We had the whole third period to get a goal back, but we didn’t. I mean, it’s tough to lose this type of games, especially to a division opponent, right?” Kuznetsov said. “But it is what it is. We have to learn from this game.”

The Capitals teased a different lineup in pregame warmups, with Kuznetsov skating with the third line rather than the second. But when the puck dropped, Kuznetsov was with usual linemates Oshie and Jakub Vrana to start the game, though he did swap places with Lars Eller for a few shifts in the third.

Coach Todd Reirden’s lineup got a bit healthier, as Tom Wilson and Michal Kempny returned to the ice. Wilson missed one game with a lower-body injury; Kempny sat out two with an illness. Kempny skated on the third pair rather than the first so Reirden could manage his minutes after the Czech hadn’t skated for several days.

“That’s not an excuse and we’re happy to have (Kempny) back out there,” Reirden said. “I hope once he gets healthy we’ll start putting him back in that situation with John and going into the All-Star Game, and moving past there, we get that pair up and running to where they had been in the past.”

New York took a 2-0 lead just 10:39 into the game, starting when Cizikas redirected a long shot from Mayfield backwards through his legs and into the net. Brock Nelson followed that up for the Islanders with an unstoppable wrist shot that dropped right behind Holtby.

But the Capitals got on the board just 14 seconds later. Dmitry Orlov found Kuznetsov in front of the right circle, and the center dangled around Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov and tucked the puck away. They kept it up a few minutes later as Alex Ovechkin set up a nice zone-entry pass to Nicklas Backstrom. Taking the puck behind the net, Backstrom fed Wilson for a backdoor goal to tie it the game.

Washington went ahead 3-2 in the first minute of the second off a New York turnover Jakub Vrana forced in the Capitals‘ zone. Oshie fed Kuznetsov in the slot for his third goal in two games.

But the Capitals allowed sloppy plays to turn into two more goals for the opposition. Radko Gudas mishandled an incoming puck in the neutral zone, leading Cizikas to slip through two defenders, receive a pass and wrist it home.

Then, Mathew Barzal fed Tom Kuhnhackl from behind the goal line to set up just his second goal of the season. By the end of the second, the Islanders had scored four times on just 18 shots.

Holtby was particularly upset with himself over the fourth goal.

“I thought it was gonna be a quicker play,” Holtby said. “Usually guys shoot far-side there. Fumbled it, fanned on it and it came off my post. That’s just a place where you need a save.”

The Capitals concluded the decade 465-232-90, marking the third-winningest decade of any team in league history and narrowly outdoing rival Pittsburgh for the best record of the 2010s.

They head to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Friday before playing five of their next six at home. Six of their next eight games before the All-Star break will feature Metropolitan opponents.

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