NHL: New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals Preview, Predictions, Picks

Vanecek: Islanders vs Capitals predictionsThe NHL is in full swing and the league has only experienced a few hiccups due to the pandemic. One team that has hit the ground running is the Washington Capitals. They welcome in the New York Islanders for the second game in three days today and look to remain hot after winning the first matchup and their fourth game on the season (7pm ET Thursday; TV: NBCS-DC, MSG+ 2).

The Washington Capitals are currently one the hottest team in the NHL despite being shorthanded. They have yet to drop a point through seven games and sit in second place in the entire league with 11 points. They are tied with the Vegas Golden Knights and are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the lead league. They are only one of four teams who have yet to lose a game in regulation time. They have four victories and three overtime losses. Two of their three losses came in shootouts. Two of their three overtime losses were at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They were able to defeat the Islanders 3-2 thanks to a game-winning goal with 26.4 seconds left by defenseman Justin Schultz. Reserve goalie Vitek Vanecek played his best game of the season. He made 32 saves on 34 attempts. Vanecek has been thrust into the starting role with fellow goaltender Ilya Samsonov out because of COVID protocols. The Caps have also been missing offensive weapons Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov due to violating protocols. Today will be the fourth of at least four games that the Russian foursome will miss. Their ability to string together 11 points with so much uncertainty thus far is highly impressive.

They may be even more shorthanded for the second game after losing both Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom in Tuesday’s win. They are both listed as day-to-day. Eller took a nasty hit that resulted in a five-minute major penalty. Tom Wilson is also day-to-day with a lower body injury that caused him to miss a second consecutive game. With so many starters out already and several others potentially out due to injury I think fatigue could set in for the veteran Capitals’ team.

I think this is the perfect game to buy back in on the Islanders as a slight road favorite with the major American sports betting firms. They lost on Tuesday as a -130 favorite, but I see today’s game having a different outcome. Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov gave up three goals for the first time this season on Tuesday night, but I expect him to bounce back. In his first three starts of the season he was lights out and only allowed one goal total. In those three games he had 81 saves on 82 attempts, which is an incredible stretch. He currently sits in second place in goals against average (GAA) with 1.00 per game. As a defensive unit the Islanders are one of the best in the NHL. They rank 2nd in goals allowed per game (1.83) and they rank 14th out of 31 teams in shots allowed per game (29.2).

Their offense leaves much to be desired, but their stellar defense can keep them in a game against any team. They rank 30th and only average 1.83 goals per game, but they were able to net two against the Caps on Tuesday. Capitals’ reserve goalie Vanecek has allowed 2.70 goals per game on average. I think the Islanders will be able to outlast an undermanned Capitals team and cash as a slight favorite. Last game finished at five goals and survived the Islanders pulling their goalie at the end. I think the Caps will be even more undermanned in this NHL game, which could cause some fatigue. I do not see the Capitals getting to three goals again. I ultimately see this being a physical and close victory for the Islanders. I will be looking for a 3-1 victory for the visitors.

So the advised New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals predictions for this NHL matchup preview are: