The Washington Capitals won two games with Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup, making fans wonder how the team would fare when he returned to the lineup against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Ovechkin slipped right back into the scheme of things without missing a beat, recording to goals and an assist in the Caps’ 6-2 win over the Islanders at Verizon Center.
It did not start out well for the home team, John Tavares putting the Islanders up, 1-0, just as a power play was expiring early in the first period. Things changed in the second period. Boy, did they. John Carlson scored his second goal in as many games when he kept a loose puck in the Islander zone at the blue line, waited as four Islanders skated by him flying the zone, then stepped up and wristed the puck past goalie Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game.
Barely a minute later Ovechkin had his first of the game, taking a clean faceoff win from Nicklas Backstrom and firing a laser past Nabokov’s blocker to put the Caps up a goal. After Kyle Okposo tied the game 17 seconds later, Marcus Johansson put the Caps up for good two minutes after that. As he was approaching the Islander goal line to Nabokov's left, Nicklas Backstrom sent a feed back to Johansson charging the net. Johansson’s first shot was stopped, but the puck pinballed off of Troy Brouwer back on to Johansson’s stick, and he didn’t miss a second time. He stuffed the loose puck past Nabokov to restore the lead, 3-2.
Barely two minutes after that, Alexander Urbom scored his first as a Capital, but it was a product of a fine play by Tom Wilson. It started with Steve Oleksy finding Wilson steaming in from the left wing. Wilson cut hard to the net and tried to poke the puck past Nabokov as he was being tripped by Tavares. As he was sliding on his back toward the boards he managed to sweep the puck back through an Islander and to the point where Urbom was waiting. Urbom leaned into one and rocketed the puck past Nabokov, and the rout was on.
Ovechkin closed the scoring in the second period when he finished up a tic-tac-toe play, Backstrom to Johansson to Ovechkin on the weak side on a power play, Nabokov not having a chance to get from post to post before Ovechkin could find the back of the net.
In the third period Wilson put the cherry on top of the sundae at 15:50 with his first NHL goal. It came off another clean faceoff win, this one by Mikhail Grabovski on a power play. The puck was drawn back to Ovechkin who held it at the left wing boards as Wilson skated hard down the slot. Ovechkin sent the puck across and Wilson redirected it through Nabokov’s pads for his first NHL goal to close the scoring for the evening.
-- The four power play goals in seven power play opportunities was the most for the Caps since they recorded four in six power play chances against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 win on December 9, 2011. That was a night of firsts in itself, former Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman recording his first career hat trick.
-- With three assists, Nicklas Backstrom jumped into a tie for third in the league in helpers with 14, tied with the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo (who had an assist in this game) and San Jose’s Joe Thornton.
-- The four-goal margin of victory was the largest for the Caps against the Islanders since beating them, 7-2, on January 26, 2010, on Long Island. It was the largest victory margin at home against this team since beating the Isles, 6-1, on opening night, October 9, 2003.
-- The Caps were, as one might expect, extremely efficient on the power play. They scored four goals on eight shots in just 3:40 of total power play time. Two of the goals came within six seconds or less of a faceoff win in the offensive zone.
-- It was a good night for the defense. Three defensemen – Alexander Urbom, Steve Oleksy, and John Carlson – recorded points, Carlson and Urbom getting goals.
-- Call it a Tom Wilson Hat Trick… a goal, and assist, and a ten-minute misconduct. It was also his second game topping the ten-minute time on ice mark (10:05).
-- Hey, let’s not forget Braden Holtby in all this. He had 34 saves on 36 shots faced, a .944 save percentage for the night (we would still like to see those shot totals come down, even with the 15 “score effect” shots on goal for the Islanders in the third period).
-- Every Capital skater recorded a shot on goal. The 39 shots in all tied their second-highest output of the season and was the most they recorded in a win.
-- Marcus Johansson broke a personal 19-game streak without a goal, dating back to April 16th of last season, when he had one against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-1 Caps win.
-- Nabokov had a perfect first period, stopping all 11 shots he faced. However, the volume got to him in the second, giving up five goals on 16 shots. Volume, volume, volume.
In the end… It did not taste quite as good as pelting the Flyers last night, but this win was more consequential. The Islanders are actually a pretty good team. And, the win propelled the Capitals into second place in the Metropolitan Division by themselves, six points behind division leader Pittsburgh. Getting goals from five players and points from nine speaks to balance, even with the three-point nights from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Now the Caps get a chance to close a successful home stand when they host Minnesota on Thursday. The already have as many wins on this three-game home stand as they managed in their five-game home stand in mid-October. That speaks to progress made by the club. The trick now is to keep it going now that their captain is back.