Tom Wilson had extra time to work on his skills while serving a suspension during the first 16 games of the season. It’s paid off in a big way for the Washington Capitals since his return.
Wilson scored twice, Braden Holtby stopped 32 shots and the Capitals beat the Islanders and former coach Barry Trotz 4-1 Monday night for their season-high sixth straight win.
Wilson has six goals and five assists in eight games since joining the lineup, including goals in four straight games.
“I had lots of time, worked on a little bit of everything,” he said. “I just tried to make sure I could pick up where we left off last year. We were playing some pretty good hockey at the end of last year, some pretty good chemistry going. I just wanted to make sure I jumped in and do whatever I can to get up to speed.”
Capitals coach Todd Rierden has noticed the difference in Wilson’s play.
“His overall puck handling is at a different level than it’s been in the past,” Rierden said. “It comes back to him maximizing his opportunity and he’s been outstanding for us.”
Nic Dowd and Alex Ovechkin also scored for Washington, which won after giving up the first goal for the fifth time during its win streak that has catapulted the defending champions to first place in the Metropolitan Division.
“We’ve had some slow starts recently,” Rierden said. “It seems to help engage our group right away and raise the desperation and urgency. That’s not a real recipe for success but it seems to be working right now.”
Valtteri Filppula scored and Thomas Greiss finished with 20 saves for the Islanders, who were playing for the fourth time in six days and snapped a two-game win streak.
“I didn’t feel we had as much juice as we did against Carolina (on Saturday) and the other games,” Trotz said. “We just didn’t. … We didn’t have the legs under us that we usually have when we’re fresh.”
Trotz was facing the Capitals for the first time since leading them to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in June. Trotz also guided Washington to the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best record in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and then resigned in a contract dispute and subsequently signed with the Islanders.
Trotz, Islanders assistant coach Lane Lambert and goalie coach Mitch Korn received their championship rings in the Capitals’ dressing room before the game and addressed their former players.
Holtby stopped 15 shots in the third to improve to 15-4-3 in 22 career games against the Islanders.
“It’s one of those games we had to grind out,” Holtby said. “Got some big plays, big shots at important times. … (The Islanders) had a lot of traffic in front. They were doing stuff that Barry preaches.”
Leading 2-1, Washington had a two-man advantage for 1½ minutes. After several attempts were stopped during the 5-on-3, Wilson beat Greiss in front about 15 seconds after the Islanders’ first penalty expired for a power-play goal to push the Capitals’ lead to 3-1 with 5:39 left.
Ovechkin added an empty-netter with 22 seconds remaining for his 18th of the season, tying him with Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner for second in the league.
Tied 1-1 after one period, the Islanders nearly regained the lead early in the second as Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen almost stuffed the rebound of Pulock’s shot off Holtby and across the goal line. After a review the no-goal call stood as officials confirmed the puck didn’t cross the line.
Dowd then put the Capitals ahead 2-1 at 7:58 of the middle period as he took a drop pass from Dmitrij Jaskin in the right circle and beat Greiss on the glove side for his third. It came on Washington’s second shot on goal of the period.
Filppula opened the scoring just 36 seconds into the game with a backhander past Holtby’s glove side for his seventh.