Despite missing key veterans due to injuries and head coach Peter Laviolette due to COVID protocols on Friday night, the Washington Capitals played arguably their most complete hockey game this season. Washington trounced the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1 to move back into the win column.
At the crux of the victory was a relatively new face for the Capitals: Sonny Milano.
Milano, 26, was signed by Washington three weeks ago and immediately loaned to AHL Hershey, before being recalled to bolster an injury-plagued Capitals roster. He was placed on the second line vs. Tampa Bay and made his presence felt with a three-point night (two goals, one assist), catalyzing a much-needed win after a rough outing Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh.
“[My transition] has been pretty smooth,” Milano said postgame. “Everyone has been taking care of me and obviously a great group of leaders and older guys that I definitely am looking up to and it’s been pretty good.”
Milano’s first goal of the night was a critical point in the contest. Nicolas Aube-Kubel had been disqualified for a high hit on Tampa Bay’s Cal Foote, giving the Lightning a five-minute power play to work with.
Washington’s penalty kill unit managed to hold the Lightning scoreless, and once it ended, Milano streaked out of the box and found himself on the end of a John Carlson clearance with a clear shot against Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. His deke moves on the breakaway were remarkable:
“That was definitely nice,” Milano said of the goal. “Haven't got one of those in a while out of the penalty box so it was definitely kind of a dream there and just had a breakaway and a lot of time…I definitely saw they were pretty collapsed in our zone so I had a feeling if the puck squirted out. So, it was good.”
Milano put himself back on the score sheet twice in the third period, first with a nice clearing pass to Anthony Mantha who found a streaking Conor Sheary down the middle:
Milano then put the cherry on top of his performance by scoring Washington’s fifth and final goal of the evening. It wasn’t as glamorous as his first, but he along with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov applied a forecheck on the Lightning that resulted in Milano having an opportunity at the doorstep:
“It definitely helped, getting some points on the board,” Milano said of his performance. “It always helps an offensive guy to get some points. I feel pretty good right now.”
While Milano wasn’t necessarily expected to put up the performance he did, he’s no stranger to scoring. He’s coming off a 14-goal, 20-assist season in Anaheim, the second 14-goal campaign of his career. Capitals assistant coach Kevin McCarthy (who stepped in for Peter Laviolette on Friday) was pleased with the winger’s outing.
“I thought he did a great job staying focused and he’s an offensive guy,” McCarthy said. “I think he scores that first goal and that just creates that confidence that you need and he carried through.”