The Washington Capitals entered Saturday night's game in Long Island desperate for a big win. Sixty minutes later, that's exactly what they got.
Washington turned in one of their best road performances of the season, scoring five unanswered goals to defeat the New York Islanders, 5-1, and move closer to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday night's game was a dominating performance from the visitor's side, but things didn't start off great for the Capitals. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for a tripping penalty just 2:08 into the first period, immediately putting Washington's penalty kill to the test. The PK unit prevented New York from finding the net, but it was clear the Islanders had early momentum after the man advantage.
Just a couple of minutes later, the Islanders were set to have another power play after Matt Irwin attempted to take a penalty to prevent an odd-man rush. Yet, the Islanders found themselves in a 2-on-1 situation on the delayed penalty and took advantage. Pierre Engvall's pass deflected off Capitals' defenseman Alex Alexeyev's skate and past Darcy Kuemper to give the home side an early one-goal lead.
New York's lead would only last for mere seconds, however.
Less than two minutes after Engvall put the Islanders ahead, Washington answered courtesy of a Dylan Strome snipe. Capitals defenseman Rasmus Sandin set up Strome on a pretty backhand pass, giving the Capitals winger a perfect angle to fire a rocket over Semyon Varlamov's right shoulder into the net to even the score.
After Strome tied the game, the Capitals and Islanders played relatively even hockey for much of the remainder of the first period despite Washington having a significant advantage in shots. Yet, the 1-1 deadlock was snapped with 40 seconds remaining in the period after Sandin found T.J. Oshie in front of the net for an easy tap-in to put the visitors ahead.
Oshie's go-ahead goal marked Sandin's second assist of the game, his third multi-point performance in four contests since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline. Sandin has totaled eight points since he arrived in Washington, the most of any defenseman in the NHL over that span.
Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk earned the secondary assist on each of the Capitals' first two goals, adding to an already career-high in points. An impressive performance from the 31-year-old blueliner who signed a three-year extension with the club hours earlier.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, as the Capitals entered the final frame with the same 2-1 advantage they began the middle 20 minutes with. Washington's penalty kill unit delivered twice during the period, too, and the Capitals entered the second intermission with a 20-12 shots advantage.
The momentum continued to swing the Capitals way early in the final period when Washington earned their third power play of the evening just over two minutes into the frame. The visitors were technically unable to capitalize during the man advantage, but Washington's lead would double just seconds after the Islanders returned to full strength.
In control of the puck in the offensive zone, Strome found an open Alex Ovechkin right in front of Varlamov. The Islanders netminder was able to initially stop Ovechkin, but Anthony Mantha was in the perfect place to clean up the rebound and put the puck past Varlamov to extend Washington's lead.
The goal was Mantha's first in 19 games and marked the first time he found the back of the net since New Year's Eve. And, he wasn't the only Capitals player to break a long goal drought on Saturday night.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the third period, Nic Dowd's fired a wrist shot that left Varlamov with no chance to make a play on the puck, extending Washington's lead to three.
The Capitals' offensive firepower didn't stop there. Just moments after Dowd scored, Sandin added to his excellent night with his third assist of the game, as Nicklas Backstrom deflected Sandin's shot past Varlamov into the net.
For as great as Washington's offensive attack was on Saturday night, the team's defense deserves a lot of credit for the victory as well. A lot of it has to do with the return of blueliners Martin Fehervary and Nick Jensen, who both returned to the ice on Saturday after each missed the last three games.
After the Capitals allowed 40-plus shots in each of their last three games, the Islanders were only able to muster 18 shots on Saturday night. The Islanders were unable to capitalize on the power play all evening long, going scoreless on five man-advantage situations. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper turned in another fantastic outing, coming up with multiple big saves throughout the evening.
It's also worth noting that Washington's defensemen were plenty involved on the offensive end, too. Sandin scored once and recorded two assists, while van Riemsdyk notched two helpers as well.
After the win, Washington trails the Islanders by five points for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. If the Capitals are to make a playoff push over the final stretch of the season, they'll need more performances like the one they turned in against New York. Saturday night's outing was a great start.