Dominant second period carries the Capitals to a victory in New Jersey


NEWARK — The Washington Capitals put on a clinic in the second period Monday night at Prudential Center, filling up the score sheet with four goals against the overwhelmed New Jersey Devils.

The Capitals found their rhythm as they scored at even strength (twice), on the power play and shorthanded. They struck quickly and with precision by taking advantage of Devils mistakes, and they parlayed that middle-period dominance into a 6-3 win, their fourth in five games.

Still, the Capitals (4-3-0) almost let this one slip away in the final frame.

With Washington up 5-1, New Jersey (3-3-0) scored twice — goals by Tomas Tatar and Jesper Bratt — to cut the Capitals’ lead in half. Gaining confidence, the Devils kept applying pressure, and Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette had to call a timeout after Bratt’s goal to settle his team.

It worked. With less than five minutes left, Aliaksei Protas gave the Capitals some breathing room with the team’s sixth goal on an odd-man rush with Anthony Mantha. It was the 21-year-old’s first of the season.

Getting a boost from backup goalie Charlie Lindgren with 38 saves, Washington held off New Jersey’s final push and earned its second win in a row. It was Lindgren’s first win with Washington in his second appearance.

“Chuckie today was unstoppable,” captain Alex Ovechkin said.

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Garnet Hathaway started the second-period surge at 9:16 with a shot from the left circle that put the Capitals up 2-1. It was his first goal of the season and the fourth line’s second of the game.

Conor Sheary doubled the lead with a shorthanded tally off a brutal Devils giveaway 47 seconds later. Ovechkin then got in on the fun, scoring a power-play goal from his signature spot in the left circle at 17:14, before defenseman Nick Jensen added the Capitals’ fifth goal with a shot from the point that hit the post and went in 33 seconds later.

“It was kind of a snowball effect,” said Sheary, with four goals the Capitals’ leading scorer. “… We are getting [scoring] all throughout our lineup. Our top line and our power play is scoring. Our fourth line is scoring. Whenever you can get that secondary scoring, it is always going to help you win.”

Ovechkin’s goal was his third of the season and the 783rd of his career. He is 19 goals from passing Gordie Howe for second on the NHL’s all-time list. Monday’s goal also was the 122nd game-winner of his career, pushing him past Howe for second on that all-time list. Jaromir Jagr is first with 135.

“It is pretty cool to be in the company to pass those legends,” Ovechkin said. “It is a pretty cool moment.”

Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood allowed five goals on 18 shots; he was pulled in favor of former Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek (three saves) to start the third period.

The game was fairly even in the first 20 minutes. Nathan Bastian found his own rebound at 4:49 to give the Devils the lead. The Capitals’ Nic Dowd tied it at 10:46 on a snap shot from the right ride. Beck Malenstyn, making his season debut, gave Dowd a sharp feed from behind the net for the primary assist. It was Dowd’s second goal in as many games.

Lars Eller and Dylan Strome added two assists apiece. John Marino had two helpers for New Jersey.

Washington continues a stretch of four games away from home with a Thursday night visit to the Dallas Stars.

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:

Malenstyn was recalled from the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears last week when winger Connor Brown suffered a long-term lower-body injury. Malenstyn had one goal in 12 games for Washington last season as a rookie but spent most of the year with Hershey, notching 10 goals and six assists in 65 games.

The 24-year-old was in Monday’s lineup over winger Joe Snively, who has appeared in two games this season. Snively got 8:16 of ice time in Saturday’s win over Los Angeles and recorded two shots on goal.

Laviolette said before the game that Malenstyn “fits the mold” of the fourth-line winger that Washington needed and that it was time to give him a chance. Malenstyn’s assist on Dowd’s goal was his first in the NHL. He appeared to mesh well on the fourth line with Dowd and Hathaway, with his physicality a welcome asset against the young, speedy Devils.

“It is almost like that role is built for him,” Laviolette said after the win. “That is his game. He’s a checker, he’s a defender, and he can chip in offensively. He did everything that we asked him to do.”

Center Connor McMichael again was a healthy scratch, raising further questions about whether the 21-year-old would be better served playing 20-plus minutes per game for Hershey. Laviolette addressed that Monday morning.

“There were times where I thought he looked really good — some of those games were at center,” Laviolette said. “There’s times when I think young players need to continue to work on their game. … He’s a good kid who works hard every day. When we have used him, he’s played well.”

The 2019 first-round pick has appeared in just one game this season, skating 8:33 in Thursday’s loss at Ottawa.

Monday was the first time Vanecek faced his former teammates. Washington traded Vanecek and a draft pick to the Devils in July for a pair of picks. New Jersey then signed him to a three-year, $10.2 million contract. The 26-year-old had been a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

Drafted in the second round in 2014, Vanecek posted a 41-22-10 record with the Capitals. Both he and Ilya Samsonov exited in the offseason when the Capitals decided to start over in goal, signing starter Darcy Kuemper and Lindgren to replace them.

With the Devils, Vanecek is serving in a backup role to Blackwood and had played in one game before Monday’s third-period appearance. He said he got a chance to catch up with Capitals defenseman Martin Fehervary on Sunday night, when they dined at a steakhouse.

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