The Washington Capitals opened their November schedule on much happier terms than they closed the month of October, rebounding from their month-ending 2-1 loss at the Calgary Flames and breaking a three-game home losing streak with a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders. The teams traded goals back and forth with the Caps getting the last, game-winning goal late in the third period.
It did not take the Caps long to get a taste of home cooking. Taylor Chorney opened the scoring for the home team just under six minutes into the contest, cleaning up what looked like a broken play. Lars Eller skated the puck into the Islanders’ zone on the left wing and spied Chandler Stephenson coming late in support through the right wing circle. Stephenson could not handle the pass for a one-timer, but he did get control of the puck and sent it back out to Chorney at the top of the zone. Chorney fired through a maze of bodies, and the puck eluded goalie Jaroslav Halak at the 5:55 mark to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
John Tavares, in whose glow these days the sun would look dim, scored his tenth goal in his last six games at the 13:01 mark to tie the game. It was the product of gritty effort on his part on a New York power play, working his way to the top of the paint to nudge a loose puck through the pads of goalie Braden Holtby and just over the goal line.
Eller restored the Caps’ lead three minutes later on a play that looked like the same one that resulted in the first Caps goal, only with roles reversed. Stephenson skated the puck down the left side, and as he reached the far edge of the left wing faceoff circle sent the puck across to Eller for a one-timer. Eller, unlike Stephenson on the first goal, got good wood (or composite) on the puck, sending it under Halak’s left pad for the lead the Caps would take to the first intermission.
Alex Ovechkin, Lars Eller, and Jay Beagle led the Caps with two shots apiece. Evgeny Kuznetsov was a perfect 4-for-4 on faceoffs. John Carlson had four shot attempts, three of them blocked, and Ovechkin tied him with four. Tavares had four shots on goal to lead the Isles, part of the 14-11 edge the visitors had in shots on goal in the period.
The teams traded power plays over the first ten minutes, the Caps getting a pair of man advantages and the Islanders getting one. Neither team scored, though. That came in the latter half of the period. New York tied things up on a power play, Anders Lee redirecting the puck through Holtby’s pads at the 16:18 mark.
Alex Chiasson untied the game 12 seconds after the Lee goal, taking a pass from John Carlson, skating down the right wing, and blasting a shot over the right pad of Halak on the far side to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the second intermission.
Jakub Vrana led the Caps with two shots on goal apiece; Dmitry Orlov and Vrana had three shot attempts.
The Islanders outshot the Caps, 9-0, over the first 6:45 to start the final period. They scored on their 10th unanswered shot when Anders Less scored his second goal of the game when he settled a shot from Thomas Hickey at his feet, and defenseman Madison Bowey on his hip, he spun and snapped a shot past Holtby’s right pad to tie the game, 3-3, seven minutes into the period.
The game looked as if it would go to extra time, but Eller put that thought to rest with less than four minutes left. John Carlson started the play, turning with the puck around the back of his own net and send a pass off the right wing boards and up to Tom Wilson in the neutral zone. Wilson took a hit to make a play, sliding the puck over to Eller heading up ice with speed. He skated into the Islanders’ zone and made it to the top of the right wing circle where he fired a shot that beat Halak cleanly over his glove at the 16:30 mark. Braden Holtby made it stand up, and the Caps had their 4-3 win.
-- The win was the second on home ice this season for the Caps, their first since their 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in the home opener on October 7th.
-- The Islanders out-shot the Caps, 16-2, in the third period and 38-19 for the game. It was the 11th time in 13 games that the Caps allowed an opponent at least 30 shots, the eighth time they allowed 35 or more shots (and third game in a row).
-- With two goals and an assist, Lars Eller recorded his first three-point game as a Capital.
-- The Caps were credited with ten hits in the game, nine of them coming from three players: Devante Smith-Pelly (four), Tom Wilson (three), and Brooks Orpik (two).
-- Nathan Walker returned to the lineup and had a clean line on his score sheet (no shot attempts, no hits or blocked shots, no giveaways or takeaways, no faceoffs taken), but he was a plus-1, and he gets marks for guts for getting in Cal Clutterbuck’s face after taking a hit from the Islander.
-- The Caps had more shots blocked by the Islanders (20) than they managed to get to the net (19). John Carlson had five of his seven shot attempts blocked.
-- The Caps won 32 of 52 faceoffs (61.5 percent). Take away Nicklas Backstrom’s rough night in the circle (3-for-10), and it was 29 wins and 13 losses (69.0 percent).
-- This was the fourth time in their last ten games that the Caps allowed multiple power play goals to an opponent. Over that span, the Caps’ penalty kill is 28–for-41 (68.3 percent). And it is killing the Caps. An indicator… Among 36 goalies appearing in at least five games this season, Braden Holtby is fifth in even strength save percentage (.942). However, he is just 25th when the Caps are shorthanded (.859). And it’s not like Philipp Grubauer is better (.848/29th).
-- Alex Ovechkin skated 20:08, making this the first time in three games this season that the Caps won when he skated more than 20 minutes.
-- The Caps are 5-on-5 were pretty much steamrolled by the Islanders. Their 39.58 percent shot attempts-for overall (third-worst of 24 teams playing on Thursday night; numbers from NHL.com) and 34.29 percent when ahead (they never trailed) were grim numbers to behold.
In the end…
Let’s face it. A win is a win is a win, and they are never bad. But neither are they always indicators that the team is playing well. The Caps got fine individual efforts from Lars Eller, John Carlson, and Chandler Stephenson on Thursday night (all with multi-point games), but the defense is, to be charitable, unsettled, especially when shorthanded. And the Caps are losing too many battles in close. The first two Islander goals were scored from a combined official distance of 17 feet, and on the third Islander goal, Anders Lee treated Madison Bowey as an afterthought in getting position for a spin move and shot. The Caps are not going to win as many games with skill as they might have in recent years. They are going to have to do it by being technically sound and winning one-on-one battles, especially in the defensive zone. That they bent, but did not break last night was a good sign, but they must get better if they are to start putting wins together in bunches.