WASHINGTON (AP) — After four days off — three without practice — the Washington Capitals shook off some expected rust Thursday night in one of their most balanced performances of the season.
T.J. Oshie scored his 11th goal of the season on the power play, John Carlson had an empty-netter, and Chandler Stephenson scored at even strength in the Capitals’ 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s a little bit of everything for sure,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said of the Metropolitan Division leaders’ third straight victory, and 15th in 18 games. “It’s important to find different ways to score and not be one dimensional.”
Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots in front of a penalty kill that shut down all four Hurricanes power plays, the last coming on a high-sticking minor on Michal Kempny with 3:46 remaining.
Washington’s only sour spot came midway through the third period, when Matt Niskanen slammed face-first into the boards after tangling with Carolina’s Justin Williams and Clark Bishop.
Niskanen exited under his own power but did not return, and no boarding penalty was awarded. Less than a minute later, Sebastian Aho scored his team-leading 15th goal in the third period for the Hurricanes to cut it to 2-1.
Carolina was without a power-play goal for a fifth consecutive game (18 total chances) and took its third loss in four games.
“We got going, that’s all,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the third period. “We started to play, and we got one and we got back in the game. And then nothing on the power play at the end. That’s definitely been the Achilles heel all year.”
Petr Mrazek made 30 stops for Carolina, which was outshot 33-29 after entering Thursday averaging a league-best plus-9.6 shot differential.
Washington went ahead on the first shot of the second. Pressure from Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly forced a turnover in Carolina’s defensive end about 3 1/2 minutes in, and Stephenson was first to the puck. He put a shot into the top-right corner to beat Mrazek’s glove for his second goal in three games.
Oshie made it 2-0 with 1:44 left in the period on Washington’s fourth power play, finding space in front of Mrazek to redirect Carlson’s shot from the top of the zone. It was the Capitals’ first goal on the man advantage in five games.
“When you can’t find a way to score when you have that much level of talent on a unit, you sometimes have to simplify things,” Oshie said. “John made a great play. Shot to an area where I could tip. You just try to get a stick on it.”
Aho scored when he pounced on a rebound following Holtby’s save of Micheal Ferland’s breakaway.
Holtby and his defense absorbed Carolina’s late pressure in the final minutes before Carlson sealed it from his own end with 50 seconds remaining after Nicklas Backstrom’s faceoff win.
“I think there was parts of the game where you just need to survive and get through,” Carlson said.
NOTES: Rierden said after the game he had yet to speak with his athletic training staff about Niskanen and could not provide an update. … Carlson added his 31st assist. … Capitals D Brooks Orpik missed his 26th game (knee) despite participating in Thursday’s morning skate. … Hurricanes D Haydn Fleury (concussion) missed a sixth consecutive game despite also participating in the morning skate.