The Capitals finished the game without two of their top forwards — Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller. Backstrom briefly left the game at the start of the second period after getting hit with the puck up high. He returned midway through the middle period but left again with 3:30 to go in the third.
Eller did not return after he was hit from behind along the boards by the Islanders’ Leo Komarov midway through the third. Eller, who was slow to get up and was tentatively looked at by trainer Jason Serbus, went straight down the tunnel to the dressing room. With the score tied at 2, Komarov was assessed a five-minute major for boarding, and the Capitals had an extended power play. They couldn’t convert, but Schultz’s tally gave Washington two points anyway.
After the game, Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said he had no update on the status of Backstrom and Eller.
“When you lose guys like that, sometimes it can break you, and sometimes it can bring you closer together,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “You look at the names of the guys that didn’t finish the game tonight and the guys that were out — there’s some pretty big names. But the boys pulled together and found a way to get a ‘W.’ ”
The Capitals have notched at least a point in their first seven games for just the second time in franchise history. The only other time was when they started 7-0-0 in 2011-12.
Coming into the game, Washington already was without five key regulars, including its entire top line. Captain Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov remain on the NHL’s covid-19 protocol list along with defenseman Dmitry Orlov and top goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Forward Tom Wilson was also out with a lower-body injury suffered Friday. Wilson took part in Tuesday’s morning skate but did not suit up against the Islanders (3-3-0). The Capitals are now 2-0-1 without the four Russians and 1-0-1 without Wilson.
“We’ve got a little bit of adversity right now and we’re still finding a way to get points, and I think in the long run that’s going to be very big for us,” Oshie said.
Winger Daniel Carr, who played briefly for Laviolette in Nashville, made his season debut. Center Michael Sgarbossa did, too, slotting in as the fourth-line center instead of Brian Pinho, who was reassigned to the taxi squad.
“The newcomers that came in I thought were terrific,” Laviolette said. “Sgarbossa played a great game, and Carr played a great game. [Daniel Sprong] had a big goal. I thought that was a real positive for guys to jump in the lineup like that and contribute the way they did.”
Rookie goaltender Vitek Vanecek, who made his fourth straight start, had 32 saves to outduel former Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov (34 saves). The 25-year-old Czech has been solid to start the season despite entering the year as the backup.
Islanders Coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018, praised Vanecek before Tuesday’s contest.
“He’s got a smile on his face and comes to work every day, takes his craft seriously and he’s worked at it,” Trotz said. “He’s not overly big, but he’s learned to play a style of game with patience and with a lot of technique, if you will, for the style of goalie that he is. He’s not afraid. He’s turned out to be a goalie that doesn’t seem to be afraid of the big moments.”
John Carlson opened the scoring for the Capitals with his second goal of the season at 11:06 of the first period. On a power play, he hammered home a rebound of Schultz’s point shot. It was the Capitals’ third power-play goal in two games.
Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson’s point shot made it through traffic and beat Vanecek at 15:33 after a great screen in front. The tally was the first even-strength goal the Capitals’ checking line of Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin had given up this season.
The Islanders took a 2-1 lead on Mathew Barzal’s easy backhander in front at 10:01 of the second. Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara, who was stuck on the ice after killing a penalty, threw the puck in front of the Capitals’ net, where Barzal grabbed it and beat Vanecek.
Sprong, scoring his first goal in a Capitals sweater, tied it at 2 at 17:21. His shot from the high slot off a slick feed from Carr went off the crossbar and in.
The second period continued to cause problems for the Capitals. The middle 20 minutes this season have been riddled with penalties, turnovers and defensive breakdowns. After Washington controlled play in the first, the Islanders took command as the Capitals committed three penalties.
“I thought the guys played really hard tonight,” Laviolette said. “Obviously New York’s got a good team. We knew we had to compete hard; we knew we had to check hard; we knew we had to get battle-ready to play a team like that. I thought that the guys that were in the lineup did a terrific job.”
Washington hosts Trotz and the Islanders again Thursday before welcoming the Boston Bruins on Saturday and Monday.