Some nights you win, some nights, you lose. And some nights you win when you should lose, and some nights, you lose when you should win. Thursday, the Caps won a game they probably shouldn't have won. But it was a win they needed badly, and they're not about to apologize for taking two points from a division rival.
Washington never trailed in Thursday's 4-3 win over the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena. But the game never felt sewn up, either. The Islanders came in hot, winners of five of their last six, and it took a great Braden Holtby performance in the Caps' nets, a slew of secondary scoring and a clutch third-period kill from a beleaguered penalty killing outfit to halt the Capitals' three-game home losing streak.
It has been nearly a decade since the Caps lost four straight at home in regulation, but they needn't worry about that now.
"I think they played a pretty good game," says Holtby of the Islanders. "That game, if we play it over and over, we're probably not going to win more than we lose. It's good to get two points; we'll take it any way we want. But we're going to have to do better - especially us veterans - come next game in Boston."
Video: Caps 365 | November 2
For the first time in eight games, the Caps drew first blood. Caps coach Barry Trotz mentioned his team's need for secondary scoring this morning, and he got nothing but secondary scoring on Thursday.
Caps center Lars Eller - who was a beast on this night - carried into the New York zone and made a cross-ice feed to Chandler Stephenson in the right circle. Stephenson went low to high, dishing to Taylor Chorney at the right point. With Tom Wilson parked firmly in the slot, Chorney slipped a wrist shot through traffic and past Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak to stake Washington to a 1-0 lead at 5:55 of the first.
Chorney's goal gave the Capitals their first lead at Capital One Arena since their home opener on Oct. 7, a 6-1 Washington win.
New York captain John Tavares came to the District on a heater, with nine goals in his previous five games. The Isles' power play also came in hot, with five goals in its prior 10 opportunities. Just six seconds after Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik was sent off for slashing, the combo of Tavares and an extra Isles skater tied the game at 1-1. Tavares won an offensive zone draw and went to the net. After Holtby stopped an Anders Lee shot from in tight, Tavares jimmied the puck loose and jammed it through the Caps goaltender and just over the goal line at 13:01 of the first.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 2
Just over three minutes later, the Caps restored their lead with another goal from the Eller line. From neutral ice, Eller fed Madison Bowey, who gained the zone and left a pass for Stephenson up high on the left side. Stephenson threaded the puck to the slot for Eller, who shot it through Halak's legs at 16;19 of the first frame.
The two sides traded chances for the majority of the second period, but the Caps put themselves in peril late in the frame when they took a bench minor for too many men on the ice, an all-too-frequent occurrence of late, especially for a team that's scuffling on the penalty kill.
Sure enough, the Islanders won the offensive zone draw and snapped the puck around with precision for 21 seconds before Lee chipped home a Josh Bailey pass at 16:18.
Washington got that one right back, needing a mere dozen seconds with which to retake the lead. Jay Beagle won the center ice draw in the wake of the Lee goal, pulling the puck back to John Carlson. Carlson sprung Alex Chiasson into New York ice, and the big winger wound up and fired from just above the right dot, beating Halak to the far side at 16:30.
Chiasson's first goal as a member of the Capitals was a big one; it killed any momentum the Isles might have gained from their tying tally on the power play, and it enabled the Caps to take a one-goal lead into the third period.
"They get a power-play goal, and we come right back and take the lead again," notes Chiasson. "Momentum is key in this game. A game like tonight, momentum kind of swung from shift to shift. It's nice to come [into the room] after two periods and feel good about yourself."
Video: Eller's three points lead Caps to 4-3 win on home ice
Holtby papered over many of his teammates' mistakes in their own end at five-on-five, keeping the Caps ahead or even. That was especially true in the third when the Caps were under siege in their own end for most of the 20 minutes. Both sides had one power play in the third, but the Isles owned a lopsided 16-2 lead in shots on net and a 23-10 bulge in third-period shot attempts.
New York pulled even at the 7-minute mark of the third, making it a 3-3 game on Lee's second goal of the night. The Isles won a draw in the Washington end, and Thomas Hickey's left point drive hit Lee in the high slot. The puck fell at his feet, and the winger turned and fired a shot past Holtby to square the score.
When Jakub Vrana authored the Caps' first shot on net of the third period at 9:36 of the third, it was Washington's first shot on net in a span of 13 minutes and 6 seconds of playing time, since the Chiasson goal.
The Caps bent but did not break, but there were tense moments when Chorney was sent off for interference at 13:45. But Holtby stopped both shots he faced, Beagle won three face-offs in his own end of the ice, and Wilson blocked another Islanders bid.
Less than a minute after completing the kill, the Caps regained the lead on their final shot on net of the night.
Carlson started the play from below the Washington goal line, sending an indirect pass to Wilson on the Caps' side of the neutral zone. Wilson touched it ahead for Eller, who gained the zone on his off-side and snapped a shot past Halak - a player he was once traded for - from the top of the left circle at 16:39.
"Sometimes you have some games where most things are just going right for you," says Eller. "Tonight was one of those games for our line; we could have even had a couple more. There are a lot of good things to build on."
The Caps and Holtby held off the Islanders' push with the extra attacker, giving Washington its first home ice win in nearly four weeks.
"It feels strange," admitted Trotz of the home ice win. "It's been a while. It was good. We need to do that, we need to build some traction here and get our fans engaged again at home and make this place a real tough place to come to.
"It was a big win for us. It was a four-point game against a team that's really good and they're really deep. In the last five or six games, they've scored four-plus goals, so they're going pretty good."
The Islanders' top six forwards dominated the Caps' top six for much of the night, so the play of Holtby and Washington's bottom six was critical in delivering the victory.
"Our five-on-five game won us a hockey game tonight," says Trotz. "We got some big saves when we needed them, and Eller's line and secondary scoring was huge for us. Really today, [the Islanders'] top six were a little stronger than our top six. They were. And our bottom six were stronger than their bottom six."