Capitals center Lars Eller grinned when it was pointed out to him that he scored two goals — including a game-winner — against Jaroslav Halák, the goaltender traded for him in 2010. At the time, Eller was shipped from the St. Louis Blues to the Montreal Canadiens.
But while Eller was amused by the fact, he was more satisfied the Capitals earned a much-needed 4-3 victory Thursday over the New York Islanders. Fresh off a three-game road trip in Western Canada, the Capitals (6-6-1) picked up their second home victory of the year.
Eller put the Capitals on top with 3:21 left, sailing down the ice after a pass from Tom Wilson and scoring on a slapshot.
“Sometimes you have some games where most things are just going right for you,” Eller said. “And I think tonight was one of those games for our line and I think we even could’ve had a couple more. A lot of good things to build on.”
Entering Thursday’s game, the Capitals had an uncharacteristic 1-3 home record. In Washington’s three losses, they had plenty of chances, but not didn’t produce enough goals when it actually mattered.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz diagnosed a simple solution: They needed to score.
That changed against the Islanders — with each goal carrying a certain significance for the Capitals, too.
With 14:05 remaining in the first, defenseman Taylor Chorney scored from the top of the slot, snapping a streak of seven straight games where the Capitals trailed to begin the game.
On Tuesday, Trotz said chasing games was mentally taxing on his players.
Chorney’s goal reversed that, and the Capitals had the lead. For once, they didn’t have to chase. After the win, Trotz joked he didn’t know what to do with himself.
“We were like, ‘hey, we got one,’” Trotz said. “It’s huge, it really is. I thought it relaxed our bench. I thought our first period was really good. All our shots we dangerous. We had really good net front presence.”
But Thursday was another rough outing for the Capitals penalty kill unit, which ranked 27th in the NHL entering the game. The Islanders scored their first two goals on the power play. In the first period, Islanders center John Tavares tied the game by poking the puck through goaltender Braden Holtby’s legs.
Eller responded, connecting on a one-timer to help the Capitals hold a 2-1 lead into intermission. The goal also gave the Capitals’ production on their third line, an issue that bothered them in the first month of the season.
The Islanders tied the game on another power play goal in the second period, but forward Alex Chiasson answered back just 12 second later — his first goal as a Capital.
“We can’t rely on the same guys to bring offense every night,” Chiasson said. “We need other guys to chip in. Lars’ line tonight was our best line. Some nights, some guys are going to be hotter than others. That’s just the way it goes.”
Trotz said he felt the Islanders outplayed his team’s top six, but the bottom six made the difference.
In the third period, the Islanders tied the game with 13 minutes left. The Capitals had a break down in their defensive zone, losing the face-off which led to an an easy score. Despite being outshot 16-2 in the period, Trotz said he felt the Capitals did a good job of preventing New York getting good looks on goal.
Trotz also wouldn’t harp on his penalty kill. After all, they came through with two successful kills in the third.
“When it really counted, they had two power plays and didn’t score,” Trotz said. “That’s a lot on the resiliency on the guys.”
And when the Capitals needed a goal, Eller answered.
“We need to build some traction here and get our fans engaged again at home, and make this place a real tough place to come to,” Trotz said. “It was a big win for us.”