Carlson’s three assists key 5th straight victory
NEW YORK – Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson skated up to the loose puck in the neutral zone and continued on across the blue line. He was flanked by a pair of New York Rangers trying to rip the puck away from him, but Carlson found the window, pushing the puck through the space between Ryan Strome’s skates and his stick. Carlson hit Brett Connolly in stride, and Connolly’s onetimer lifted the Capitals to a late lead.
Washington held on for a 5-3 win over New York, extending the team’s season-best winning streak to five games in large part thanks to Carlson’s three-assist effort. Playing his second game in as many days, Carlson finished with a team-high 24:20 ice time, and he was on the ice for four of the Capitals’ goals while not being scored on all game.
“This was probably one of his stronger back-to-backs that I could remember in the last couple years, if I was being completely honest about that,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “When he plays that amount of minutes, he’s not a small guy, so it’s not easy to play these back-to-backs. That’s one of his best back-to-backs he’s had since I’ve been here.”
Fittingly, this is the first back-toback set that Washington has won both games this season. As the Capitals have steadily addressed each of their early-season issues that persisted through the first quarter of the season, back-to-back situations were the last bugaboo for the team.
“We’re starting to get that feeling again through our room,” Connolly said. “It’s starting to get there like we had towards the end of last year. That’s what we’re working towards.”
Just 31 seconds after the Rangers jumped out to a two-goal lead in the second period, the Capitals started to chip away at it. Center Nic Dowd tapped his stick on the ice as he went to the front of the net with no one guarding him, and Carlson obliged his ask for the puck. Carlson’s shot from the point was tipped by Dowd in front for Washington’s first goal of the game 10:10 into the second period.
Then, at the 16:27 mark, speedy winger Jakub Vrana skated past Brett Howden in a race to the puck. With no one in front of him but the goaltender, Vrana drove the net and lifted a backhand over Alexandar Georgiev to tie the game. That’s Vrana’s sixth goal of the season, putting him on pace to improve on his rookie campaign, which saw him score 13 goals with 14 assists last season. Vrana has two goals and four assists in his past seven games.
Captain Alex Ovechkin capped a strong period with the go-ahead goal in the final minute before intermission. Positioned directly in front of the net, Ovechkin redirected Carlson’s centering pass for his 17th goal of the season, tied for the league lead, and his fifth goal in the past five games.
Strome tied the game once more with a wraparound goal 5:30 into the third period. But Carlson’s pass to Connolly restored Washington’s lead with 6:24 left to play.
“He covers so much ice that he’s almost like another forward out there,” Connolly said. “It’s fun when you’re out there with him and he’s joining the rush. It seems like we got four forwards out there on that rush.”
The Capitals looked like a team that had played less than 24 hours earlier to start the game. The Rangers were called for two infractions in the first 10 minutes, but the Capitals managed just one shot on goal on those power plays. While the team has been able to win without injured top center Evgeny Kuznetsov and right wing T.J. Oshie, those players are arguably missed most on the man-advantage.