Even in today's watered down game, playing a home-and-home with a division rival usually leads to bad blood. This is especially true when one team has something to play for besides points in the standings.
The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders matched up on Thursday and Friday, in what promised to be a physical pair of games. The Islanders delivered; the Capitals, not so much.
In 2015, the two played an incredibly physical series by today's standards, capped off with Tom Wilson ending Lubomir Visnovsky's career in one of the most brutal hits we have seen post-lockout. The severely outmatched Islanders were only able to respond by letting Anders Lee get pounded by pre-suspension Wilson, who was still playing with reckless abandon.
This new Capitals squad, however, has no identity. No longer do the Capitals have a stifling defense, three scoring lines, and a Vezina candidate in goal. Beyond TomLineTommy, the Capitals physical response is limited to an 80 year Brooks Orpik, and a cadre of non-fighters who watch their teammates get steamrolled like back in the good ol' Bruce Boudreau days.
Cal Clutterbuck is a rat, incredibly effective at getting under the opponent's skin. The Thursday match-up saw him get under Wilson's skin; the Friday match-up saw him take a run at hot streak TJ Oshie, who has been dealing with concussion issues. Thomas Hickey is scrappy too, always playing on the edge; on Friday he rammed Jakub Vrana into the boards well after the whistle, and injured Evgeny Kuznetsov with a well placed and timed slash.
And the Capitals responded with the powerplay. It is good to win on the scoresheet, but it is betterto protect your teammates- with talent on the shelf, it is impossible to win.
At Contrarian Sports, we sadly recognize that the age of the true enforcer is gone. However, that does not mean the Capitals have to be so damn easy to play against. What is truly puzzling is that Barry Trotz, a coach well known for not developing youth talent, would consistently prefer to play guys like Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Chandler Stephenson 12 minutes per game, while encouraging Wilson to clean up his game, instead of deploying even one guy to provide some semblance of physicality beyond the top trio of forwards.
Again, this does not mean the Capitals should bring in a guy like Joel Rechlicz, as much as we would love that. But, with guys like Antoine Roussel, Zack Kassian, and Nick Ritchie playing significant roles and bringing grit, actual grit, not repeatedly-get-hammered-and-get-up-just-to-get-clobbered-again "grit" the Capitals seem to love so much, the proof is out there that scrappy forwards still very much belong in the game (there is no sense bringing up Matt Tkachuk, Ryan Hartman, Austin Watson, etc., because they were highly rated prospects whom the Capitals obviously had no real opportunity to target).
It is embarrassing that the Capitals now have to enter another tough stretch of games, kicked off with a road game in Philly, without the team's second top scorer, who may be out for a significant amount of time. Injuries happen- but injuries caused at the hands of an opponent without fear of retribution only cause more injuries to occur.
This team has enough hurdles already; no need to add more by getting pushed around and hurt.