Capitals’ role players earn much needed win vs. Oilers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Having lost three of their previous four games, and with an astonishing eight rostered players out with injuries, the Washington Capitals were in desperate need of a win Monday night in Edmonton.
They got it by the final score of 3-2, but it wasn’t the biggest names on the squad who powered the away side to the victory. Rather, it was a combination of elite levels of playmaking from the role players who catalyzed Washington’s victory.
It started in the second period, when the Capitals were finally able to get the better of Oilers’ goalkeeper Stuart Skinner, who they peppered with a remarkable 50 shots on the night. A spry play by Anthony Mantha forced an Edmonton giveaway in their zone, which then prompted Sonny Milano to nudge the puck over to Lars Eller. Eller put the cherry on top with a beautiful deke move to tie the game at one apiece.
Edmonton then gained the lead again when Connor McDavid stole the puck on the penalty kill and broke away for a shorthanded goal. Just before that very same Capitals’ power play ended, though, a tic-tac-toe sequence freed up T.J. Oshie unmarked in the low slot. Oshie finished the play and scored to tie the game back up at 2-2.
So, heading into the third period after a four-goal second, the battle between Washington and Edmonton seemed to be teetering without either team able to break away. The Capitals ended up winning thanks to the stellar play of arguably their best contributor on the night: 21-year-old forward Aliaksei Protas.
Protas has proven all season that wherever you plug him into the lineup, he’ll make an impact. He’s found his best niche on the fourth line alongside Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. It was Protas who won puck battles throughout the game and outskated Oiler defenders for a couple tasty scoring chances. On one of those chances, he cashed in.
Protas found himself with a step on the Edmonton defensive pairing. He could’ve forced a shot on net, but he showed poise beyond his years by leaving a drop-pass for the streaking Dowd, who put a wrist shot away for a 3-2 lead which the Capitals wouldn’t relinquish.
Washington held it down on the defensive end of the ice as well. Though a sloppy turnover led to McDavid’s goal, the Caps allowed 30 shots on net (28 of which were saved by Charlie Lindgren, who stepped in for the injured Darcy Kuemper), kept the Oilers scoreless on the power play, and outhit their opponents 27-19. Perhaps most importantly, they ended the five-game point streak that former league MVP Leon Draisaitl carried into the matchup—the Oiler forward finished with just one shot on goal and a -2.
Injuries seem to be mounting each day for the Capitals. Their steady play on Monday night in Canada was a testament to how the ‘other guys’ on the team – the Manthas, the Protases, the Dowds – can continue to play in sync despite both forward lines and defensive pairings dealing with a myriad of roster vacancies.
General manager Brian MacLellan said this week that the Caps had “dug ourselves a hole here. The margin for error is pretty slim right now,” due to the team’s recent string of below-average play. It seemed as though the team knew that heading into Edmonton on Monday, leading to arguably their most impressive shorthanded win on the season. Their next test will be Wednesday in Philadelphia.