The Capitals were without Alex Ovechkin on Saturday night, but the offense still dominated in a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders, their second straight win on Long Island.
The win vaults Washington back into first place in the East Division as the Pittsburgh Penguins had jumped them briefly with their win against the New Jersey Devils earlier on Saturday. The Caps hold a one-point lead over Pittsburgh and a three-point lead over the Islanders. Washington hosts New York again on Tuesday at Capital One Arena to conclude the three-game series. The Capitals magic number to clinch a Stanley Cup playoff berth is down to 5 points with eight games still to play.
Here is how Saturday's win happened.
A strong start
Washington did not score in either of the team's last two games against New York. It took just 2:33 into Saturday's game for the Caps to get on the board. Granted, it was Ilya Sorokin in net and not Semyon Varlamov, but Sorokin is no slouch, coming into this game with a .922 save percentage and 2.02 GAA. It is also the same defensive team in front of him.
Garnet Hathaway caught Sorokin by surprise with his short early. Nick Jensen picked off a pass in the neutral zone and broke the puck back in past the blue line. He passed it off to Hathaway who sent a shot rather innocently on net, but it took a strange bounce off Sorokin's pad and squirted into the net.
The goal snapped a shutout streak of 148:32 for New York against Washington.
T.J. Oshie made it 2-0 later in the second period off a fantastic passing play. You never know how a line will adjust to a new player or how a new player will adjust to his new team, but Anthony Mantha looks like he is fitting in extremely well with Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom after his acquisition from Detroit.
Brenden Dillon gave the puck up to Mantha. After a back-and-forth with Backstrom, Backstrom took the puck to the goal line beside the net and dished it to the uncovered Oshie on the doorstep.
The 4th line
Against an incredibly strong defensive team and without Ovechkin, the fourth line came up huge Saturday with two critical goals. Not only did Hathaway snap New York's shutout streak, but Nic Dowd broke a tie to help Washington retake control of the game.
As good as Washington's start was, the Islanders erased it midway through the second as Anthony Beauvillier and Adam Pelech both scored to tie the game at 2. Dowd then provided what proved to be the turning point of the game with his goal to restore the lead to 3-2.
The Caps cycled in the offensive zone and began firing shots from everywhere. The Islanders did well to block several of them from getting on net, but the great work from Washington prevented New York from grabbing those loose pucks. Finally, Dowd found one and swung around to hit the top-corner blocker side on Sorokin.
Sprong fills in nicely
No Ovechkin? No problem Saturday. Daniel Sprong was put on the left wing on the top line in place of the missing the injured Ovechkin (lower-body injury) on Saturday and scored twice to ensure the Caps did not miss a beat with their captain out of the lineup.
After Dowd restored the momentum in their favor, Sprong scored just 2:25 later off a turnover as Washington took advantage of gassed Islanders players caught on an extended shift. He scored again in the third period off a good faceoff win by Kuznetsov - looking an awful lot like Ovechkin in the process.
A heads-up shot by Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov does not shoot the puck all that much and is often guilty of over-passing in high-danger opportunities. In the third period, however, he made a heads-up play by calling his own number.
Kuznetsov retrieved the puck in his own end, weaved his way through the neutral zone, broke the puck past the blue line himself and fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle to beat Sorokin.
Considering just how much Kuznetsov prefers to pass the puck to set up teammates, it was surprising to see him decide to fire the shot from that far away with a defenseman in front of him. Sorokin is a great young netminder, but he didn't have it on Saturday and you wonder if that's why Kuznetsov decided to call his own number this time.