Showing an undeniable sense of confidence on the ice, Washington came away with a statement win and asserted its dominance after falling into an early 1-0 hole. In the span of 3:01 of the first period, the Capitals got goals from Hathaway, Vrana and Carlson to take a two-goal lead that grew as the night unfolded.
Carlson had the primary assist on the first two goals and tallied his third point on a snipe past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones for his ninth goal of the season. He nearly had his 10th goal about midway through the third period, but he was stopped by Aaron Dell. Dell replaced Jones in the San Jose net to start the third period; Jones allowed five goals on 23 shots.
The Capitals (20-4-5) have 45 points — tied for most in the NHL with the Boston Bruins, who have played one fewer game — and are on a four-game winning streak heading into the second half of a back-to-back at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. It was the third straight game the Capitals allowed the first goal before rallying to a win.
“We’ve been pretty good at not getting too high or too low and I think it was the fact that we kept sticking to our game plan after that, that was more us than them,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. Holtby picked up his 14th win of the season and now is 14-2-4 on the year.
And while the Capitals’ dominated the game, it got ugly late when the Sharks’ Evander Kane hit defenseman Radko Gudas in the head. Kane was assessed a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. Gudas went to the Capitals’ dressing room and did not return. Losing Gudas would be problematic; Washington only brought six defensemen for its California road trip, with the Capitals’ playing their second game of the back-to-back Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings.
“I think the refs made the right call,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “It is a high hit. It is a reviewable penalty and the league will deal with it from there. That is the type of stuff we are working to remove from the game so we will have an update on Radko tomorrow.”
After his three-point outing, Carlson has 40 points (nine goals, 31 assists) in 29 games. The single-season record for points by a Capitals defenseman is 81 by Larry Murphy in 1986-87. Carlson, who is on pace for 113 points, is the first defenseman since Calgary’s Al MacInnis (1990-91) to record 40 points in 29 games — and just the second defenseman since 1979-80.
Carlson has been on a tear all season, with teammates advocating for him to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. His strong two-way game has impressed opposing players and coaches alike.
“Our team is playing well and that is what I care about,” Carlson said. “It is nice to see the puck go in, always, there is no doubt about that, but whoever is scoring them, it is good for me.”
The Sharks (15-13-1) came into the game with an 11-2-0 record in their past 13 games, but were no match for the highflying Capitals. Washington is still without center Nicklas Backstrom (upper-body injury, day-to-day), but got back forward Carl Hagelin, who returned from long-term injured reserve after missing 11 games with an upper-body injury. Backstrom is still a game-time decision for Wednesday’s contest against the Kings.
With the addition of Hagelin, Washington’s bottom-six forwards were back at full strength.
“Obviously so nice to get Hagelin back in there,” Reirden said. “The experience he has as a player, understanding the importance of game management, he’s a winner for a reason. Just the little things he does, the intangibles.”
It was also the Capitals’ first game since trading Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday for a 2021 fifth-round draft pick. The team has praised its new-look fourth line since the start of the season but hadn’t often been able to get a consistent combination of Hathaway, Nic Dowd and Brendan Leipsic because of injuries, salary cap troubles and a suspension.
“They really set the tone for our team and everyone hops on board with their work ethic and we look to build from there,” Reirden said.
That changed Friday when the line was reunited in a 4-3 overtime victory against Tampa Bay; Dowd returned from a hand injury, and Hathaway was back after serving a three-game suspension. That success carried over to a 5-2 victory in Detroit on Saturday and was evident again Tuesday.
Washington’s fourth line was the best line on the ice the entire night, with Dowd registering assists on both of Hathaway’s goals. And Dowd nearly scored early in the first period, but Jones made a stellar save.
After Melker Karlsson scored for San Jose at 2:33 of the first, Hathaway responded with the equalizer at 13:31. Vrana tallied the go-ahead goal 53 seconds later: He was sitting all alone at the front of the net and had plenty of time to get a rebound off the post and score his 13th of the season. Carlson’s goal came at 16:32.
Hathaway’s second gave the Capitals a three-goal lead 2:31 into the middle period, and Vrana capped Washington’s scoring with his second at 16:15. Kane scored for San Jose with 6:53 left in the game, but the Sharks could get no closer. Holtby made 23 saves to get the win.
Vrana continued his hot streak; he has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his past five games. The 23-year-old has 14 goals, all at even strength. That is the third-most in the NHL behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Boston’s Brad Marchand, who each have 15.
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