Despite their dearth of even-strength offense, the Capitals were not completely discouraged by their prolonged lack of production. They proved that Friday in a 5-2 victory against the streaking Islanders.
Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward scored for Washington, which avenged a 3-2 overtime road loss to New York on Wednesday. The Capitals scored three 5-on-5 goals after scoring four in their previous six games.
"Five-on-five is the main part of the game, so you have to score goals on that," Johansson said. "I think today we did a good job and we had more people at the net. I think that created more chances as well. We did all the right things to do and tonight. We got some confidence from the first one I think and just going from there."
"We didn't handle the puck the way we wanted to; it was sloppy," Lee said. "[Washington] took advantage of some opportunities and tonight our sloppy play cost us. We didn't sustain pressure enough tonight. We did that in spurts, but not for the entire period or the entire game. That's where we can really wear them down and we didn't do that tonight."
The Capitals, who trudged through a listless start Wednesday, were again sluggish in the opening minutes of the rematch. Coach Barry Trotz was forced to call his timeout 5:26 after the opening faceoff following two icing calls, and the Capitals needed 10:01 to register their first shot on goal.
Despite that, Washington took a 1-0 lead on its second shot of the game, a power-play deflection by Burakovsky on Matt Niskanen's one-timer at 11:51.
Johansson snapped a shot past Islanders goaltender Chad Johnson's blocker at 18:27 for Washington's first even-strength goal in 148:59, but New York erased its two-goal deficit in 66 seconds.
At 18:58, the rebound of Nick Leddy's point shot ricocheted to Tavares, stationed near the right post, and he hit the wide-open net for his 10th goal of the season. Thirty-five seconds later, Lee cruised in front of the net unguarded and tipped Travis Hamonic's shot past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
Trotz had previously referred to those types of late goals as "momentum killers," and was pleased with his team's response.
"We worked really hard to get the two-goal lead and then to give it away within about 1:10 or something like that, that's pretty damaging," he said. "We talk about the shift after a goal, we didn't manage that as well as we needed to and then they scored again. You went back in the room, it was pretty quiet. I said, 'Listen, it's a 40-minute game now. Let's just look at it that way. We've got to win a period and we'll back where we want to be.'"
The second period featured a more frenzied pace with Ovechkin scoring the lone goal at 9:53, beating Johnson with a wrist shot from inside the right circle after Tom Wilson was able to maintain control of the puck as he entered the zone through heavy New York pressure. The goal proved to be the game-winner, tying Ovechkin with Peter Bondra for the franchise record of 73.
The Islanders played without defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who didn't make the trip because of an upper-body injury, lost defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky to the same problem. He did not return after a shift late in the second period. No further update was provided on either player.
"When you miss a defenseman, especially a guy like [Visnovsky], we've got to help out our D," Tavares said. "We just weren't very sharp. Execution wasn't where it has been, and you can see why we didn't generate as much as we would like."
Kuznetsov ripped a wrist shot past Johnson at 5:56 of the third period, collecting the puck below the goal line, curling into the left circle and beating Johnson. It was Kuznetsov's second goal of the season and first at even strength. Ward scored an empty-netter with 1:28 remaining.
"We're a lot more confident in our game right now," Holtby said. "It was big that we weren't behind because of it, that we were still tied. We knew we were playing well, we knew we could score a few more. The guys responded great. I think we stayed mentally committed through the whole game and it worked out well for us."
"A regulation win was good," Trotz said. "You go into [the two games with the Islanders] obviously looking for four points when you play someone and we got three. We gained a little ground but more importantly, we didn't lose any ground. That's the way I look at it.
"Tomorrow night, we've got a real good test in Toronto. Hockey Night in Canada, Saturday night, Toronto hasn't played for a while, and they'll be sitting there waiting for us. It'll be a good atmosphere. It'll be a good test."