Despite squandering a major power play in the third period, the Capitals gutted out a 3-2 win against the Islanders on Tuesday. If certain injuries extend beyond this game, the Capitals might need to be even gutsier going forward.
With Ovechkin out, other top Capitals pick up the slack vs. Islanders
As you likely remember, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov are expected to miss about four games due to COVID complications. So far, the Capitals managed a 2-0-1 record in their absence, improving to 4-0-3 on the season after beating the Islanders.
With key players out, other big-time Capitals are coming through. John Carlson scored a goal and an assist, extending his point streak to four games. Nicklas Backstrom collected an assist, giving him four points (2G, 2A) in these three contests with Ovechkin & Co. T.J. Oshie is the only big-name, healthy Capitals player who didn’t get on the board in this one.
Of course, some successes hinge on the unexpected. Justin Schultz‘s game-winner was unexpected in more ways than one, as he scored the 3-2 goal with just 27 seconds left in regulation. Schultz now has consecutive one-goal, one-assist games.
Speaking of big names, Mathew Barzal did his part for the Islanders, scoring a goal and an assist. It just wasn’t enough.
Again, the Capitals dug deep to beat the Islanders. And they might need to dig even deeper against the Isles once more on Thursday.
Leo Komarov delivered a scary hit on Lars Eller to draw what could have been a pivotal major penalty. Eller did not return. Backstrom also missed the late stages of that game, leaving his health in question.
With Tom Wilson among those injured, and Ovechkin and others possibly out another game (or more?) in COVID protocol, the Capitals could really be shorthanded vs. the Islanders on Thursday. Those issues could go longer, too.
Valuable experience for Vitek Vanecek?
Good thing the Capitals are locking down points, and often wins, when they can, then. Keeping this point streak going would be ideal, but at least Washington can withstand a lull if needed.
And, yes, you can point to “one player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.”
With Ilya Samsonov among those sidelined in COVID protocol, the Capitals keep leaning on Vitek Vanecek. The unproven 25-year-old improved to 3-0-2 so far in this young season.
If Samsonov hits a cold streak and/or injury down the line, Vanecek now has this experience running with the ball. Also of note: his Capitals teammates gained that added familiarity playing in front of him. These repetitions could come in handy, even if the ideal scenario might still be having Samsonov as the go-to goalie.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.