- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Over the last two Wednesdays, the Washington Capitals raised a Stanley Cup banner and played a Stanley Cup rematch. Their third Wednesday of the NHL season was a return to normalcy, but they still treated the crowd to an overtime finish and a win.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen notched the overtime game-winner as the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson posted a goal and two assists and Alex Ovechkin scored two power-play goals to carry Washington. Nicklas Backstrom had two assists and Braden Holtby finished with 29 saves.

The win snapped the Capitals’ two-game losing streak. They improved to 3-2-1 in the young season while the Rangers slipped to 2-4-1.

Almost halfway into the five-minute overtime period, Evgeny Kuznetsov shot a wrister that Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of his glove on, and Niskanen was there to clean up with the game-winner, his first goal of the year.

“I didn’t do much. Kuzy did a lot of nice work there,” Niskanen said. “I just had to put it in.”

Capitals coach Todd Reirden said the reason he was happy with the win wasn’t that it ended an early-season slide, but that it showed an improvement over something they did in their last game, a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We went into the third period, I felt, under control of the game and we managed the puck properly and we played in the offensive zone,” Reirden said. “Even though, yeah, they got a tying goal or whatever, we were still carrying the play. … It looked totally different if you watch the first 10 minutes of the Toronto game (third period) and then you watch the first 10 minutes of this third period. That’s what you’re looking for as a coach, is improvements in areas.”

Six minutes into the action, Holtby stopped a short-range shot from Rangers winger Chris Kreider, but center Mika Zibanejad popped in the rebound for the first goal of the game.

Christian Djoos got onto the highlight reel after the Capitals killed the first penalty of the night. New York’s Jesper Fast nearly had a lunging goal from in front of the crease, but Djoos scooped it out and away just before the puck rolled completely over the line.

That move was partly responsible for setting up Washington’s first goal. Backstrom did the rest of the prep work, knocking an offensive zone faceoff behind him to Carlson, who scored a slapshot goal from out near the blue line.

The Capitals grabbed the lead early in the second frame on their first power play. A bouncing pass from Brett Connolly nearly left the neutral zone, but John Carlson corralled the puck and shuttled it to Ovechkin, who scored right away from the left circle.

Lundqvist said later that he didn’t expect Ovechkin to shoot.

“He hit it hard, so when I realized he shot it, it was just hard to recover. But I should know with that guy, he can shoot from anywhere,” Lundqvist said. “It didn’t look like he was going to shoot it. He received a pass and then, boom, he shot it, and before you know it it’s coming at you and I wasn’t able to recover. I learned my lesson there. I’ve played so many times against him I should know to be ready at all times.”

Later, Dmitry Orlov managed to push Zibanejad down while jockeying for the puck in a corner and was called for holding. Five seconds into the New York power play, Neal Pionk took a shot that careened off Devante Smith-Pelly and Jimmy Vesey was in the right place to tap the flying puck past Holtby.

But Washington only needed another 5-on-4 advantage to get back ahead. A quick Backstrom-Carlson-Ovechkin play set No. 8 up at the left circle again, a place they don’t call his “office” for nothing.

The Russian leads the Capitals with six goals, while Carlson now has five goals and four assists thanks to his power-play connections with Ovechkin.

“It’s just pass and shoot it, really,” Carlson said. “I think there’s so many factors that go into it. (But) it’s not like we’re doing anything new. It’s just about executing, me passing it in the right spot and him hitting the right spot.”

Carlson was in top form all night, not only on his three points and five shots but in the little details, like two takeaways and other plays to keep the puck in the Capitals’ O-zone.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of his teammate. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch.”

Washington warded off a tying goal until 10:25 into the third period, with Nathan Walker in the box for holding. A minute after the call, Kreider scored by re-directing a shot from Pionk, the blueliner’s third assist of the night and his second to come in that fashion.

It was a rough night for Walker, who returned to the fourth line after newcomer Dmitrij Jaskin played a few games there at left wing, but Reirden was not down on the Australian for trying to force a turnover.

“If he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up-ice, then he’s just a very average player that’s gonna find himself in and out of the league,” Reirden said. “So I need him to do that and obviously not take a penalty, but we’ll continue to learn and grow from there.”

Lundqvist kept the Capitals out of the net in the final minutes of regulation, forcing extra hockey.

The Capitals return to Capital One on Friday to host the Florida Panthers, their last home contest before a four-game Canadian road trip.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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