The Washington Capitals are back. Granted, they weren’t gone for long – they’ve lost just once, versus the Anaheim Ducks, in their last six games, but a shutout win over the Los Angeles Kings was the reset Peter Laviolette’s team needed.
The Caps, now halfway through a four-game west coast road trip, are in a tricky spot. Laviolette is down three centers (Lars Eller, Nic Dowd, Nicholas Backstrom) and two wingers (T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha) due to injury and COVID-19. Despite that, Washington put on a gutsy performance in Los Angeles, ending the Kings’ eight-game point streak (7-0-1) and extending their own to six (5-0-1).
“It was a really good performance by [Samsonov],” Laviolette said post-game. “He seemed like he was in control of the game, in control of his crease, and focused. He did a really good job.”
Meanwhile, Samsonov deflected praise to his teammates:
“I think it’s more important that the team wins [than I get a shutout] because we played with a lot of heart, there were a lot of blocked shots, everybody was helping me. It was a nice game, an important two points, I need to play like that every night.”
Like his Russian teammate, Hathaway is on a heater of his own. This time last week, the American forward was goalless in 2021-22. Following his brace against L.A., he’s now tied for third on the team and has netted Washington’s last two game-winners.
“With the amount of offense that is out of the lineup right now, to have him contributing the way he is, is really important,” said Laviolette.
“He skates well, he handles the puck well, he shoots it hard, he goes to the net, he goes to the hard areas. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t score goals, so it’s nice to see him get rewarded.”
Now, let’s talk takeaways.
Capitals Showcase Cup-Style Reliance
The significance of Washington’s win over the Kings mustn’t be overlooked. The Capitals were without five important forwards, on the second night of a west coast back-to-back and up against a team that hadn’t played since Saturday.
The Kings are also looking good at the moment; their 8-6-2 record is currently good enough for fourth in the Pacific Division (and a Western Conference wildcard spot). With the odds stacked against them, Alex Ovechkin and Co. weathered the storm in L.A. and came away with a win that sent them top of the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals played five games in seven days without numerous key players and earned nine points. That’s the kind of run that Stanley Cup contenders put together.
John Carlson’s Point Streak Continues as Washington’s Top Pair Excels
Pairing Martin Fehervary with John Carlson has proven to be a masterstroke by Laviolette.
Carlson assisted both Hathaway goals, extending his assist streak to four games and bringing his tally to 10 for the season. The American blueliner is now tied with Michal Pivonka for third on the franchise’s assist list (418) and is turning out quality performances night-after-night for the injury-hit Capitals.
Carlson looks comfortable playing alongside Fehervary, who is delighted to be playing alongside him. It’s a win-win for the Capitals and Laviolette.
Flowers for Garnet Hathaway
In addition to his pair of goals, Hathaway landed six hits against the Kings, leading all skaters on the night. The rugged fourth-liner has recorded at least six hits in five of his last 17 games. Unsurprisingly, his 61 hits for the season see him ranked third in the NHL.
As Laviolette noted, measuring Hathaway’s performance through goals and assists is somewhat futile. He is a crucial contributor for the Capitals even when he isn’t on the scoresheet – and deserves extra praise for finding the next twice against the Kings.
With so many forwards unavailable, the Caps needed someone to step up. Hathaway did.
Ilya Samsonov Gets Flowers Too
Although the quality of Washington’s goaltending has been a concern throughout the season (and still is), it must be said that Samsonov was excellent against the Kings. The Russian made 34 saves on course to his fifth NHL shutout, improving his record to 34-10-4.
That said, Samsonov’s clean sheet will do little to improve his reputation. The 24-year-old is under pressure this season because of his inconsistency, not his quality. If he can put a run together, the organization will take notice. Until then, they probably won’t.
Capitals Dazzle on the Road Again
Washington is 10-2-5 to start the year and 5-1-2 on the road. The only team in the NHL with a better away record than the Capitals are the Carolina Hurricanes. In other words, Laviolette’s squad should be in a good frame of mind when they continue their road swing in San Jose on Saturday.
Looking ahead, it isn’t inconceivable that the Capitals could return to D.C., having won three of their four games in California and Seattle.
While the Sharks are just one point behind the Kings with a game-in-hand, the Kraken’s expansion roster isn’t working out at the moment. Seattle is 4-11-1 on the season and has lost five on the bounce. As such, the Capitals have an opportunity to increase the distance between themselves and the chasing pack. It’s one they must take.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals beat for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.