The league-leading Capitals (21-4-5) allowed Blake Lizotte’s third-period score but nothing else past rookie goaltender Ilya Samsanov during their fifth straight win. Tom Wilson scored the empty-netter at 18:41 of the third to seal the win. It was Wilson’s 11th goal of the season. Six Capital players have at least 10 goals, the most in the NHL.
“We are finding different ways to win, and that was a very good game by Samsonov, and obviously John Carlson continues to do special things every night,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said.
The Capitals finish this four-game trip Friday night against Anaheim. Despite no Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup for the seventh straight game because of injury, the team’s veteran leaders got it done and Carlson continued to dazzle. Backstrom is questionable to play against Anaheim. The team is 13-2-1 on the road this season. No other team has more than 10 road wins.
In the early race for the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL’s top defenseman, Carlson is the clear favorite. He has 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) through 30 games. The only defenseman to tally more points in that same span is Bobby Orr in 1974-75.
“I just try to work my hardest and make as many plays as I can really,” Carlson said.
In the team’s 5-2 win against San Jose on Tuesday, Carlson had the primary assists on the Capitals’ first two goals before recording one of his own. He has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last three games.
“There’s a lot of great players I’m playing with that make me look pretty good right now,” Carlson said after the win in San Jose. “We got a real good start to the season.”
Against the Kings, he scored the first goal of the game unassisted; he stole the puck in the defensive zone and went end to end, finishing with a wrister past goaltender Jonathan Quick. It put the Capitals up 1-0 at 4:36, and might have been Carlson’s most impressive move of the season — until his second strike roughly nine minutes later.
Going forehand to backhand, Carlson tucked the puck inside the post after a slick feed from T.J. Oshie, who extended his points streak to four games.
“Johnny for Norris,” Oshie said of his teammate. “There’s nothing else to truly talk about.”
After scoring twice on eight shots on goals in the first, Washington’s output dropped to four in the second period. Samsonsov (22 saves) held the Kings at bay. His only mistake came early in the third period, when he mishandled the puck behind the net and Lizotte made him pay. The Kings failed to find an equalizer late, and Samsonov improved to 7-2-1. Reirden praised the 22-year-old’s ability to stay composed after his mishandle as he closed out the game with a couple big saves.
Samsanov’s goals against average dropped to 2.42, the lowest among rookies.
“We’ve been better with leads I would say,” Carlson said. “. . . It seems like we are a lot more control than earlier on in the season.”
Carlson is the fifth Capitals defenseman to score 100 goals, joining Kevin Hatcher (149), Sergei Gonchar (144), Callie Johansson (113) and Mike Green (113). His two-goal night was his third multi-goal game of the season. He entered the season with three multi-goal performances in 688 career games.
“Really great player,” Kings defenseman and 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty said of Carlson. “Really good on the power play, good shot. He’s a threat because he can just feed it over to [Alex] Ovechkin obviously, but he has a good shot, too, so you can’t just sit on Ovechkin because he’ll put it in from where he is standing, too. He is having a great year.”
Carlson’s defensive abilities aren’t to be overlooked, either. It’s the foundation of his game, the reason Reirden has been able to see a steady progression in all facets of Carlson’s game since the two met when Reirden came to the franchise six years ago.
“The thing he probably had first was his ability to defend right,” Reirden said. “Once you start to prove that then we can start to add more offense now that you can shut down top guys. Now he’s obviously taken it to a whole different level with his offensive play.”