WASHINGTON – Braden Holtby began feeling like he was playing the first game after a summer off, and Alex Ovechkin needed a few shifts to get back into a rhythm. Once they got going, the Washington Capitals were back to normal.
Ovechkin scored the winning goal in his return from a one-game suspension and Holtby made several key saves on a late penalty kill as the NHL-best Capitals beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Thursday night.
"With both those not going, it tends to be a recipe for disaster," Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie said. "Getting those two guys back is huge. I think tonight everyone was going, so it was good to see."
Neither player had participated in a regular-season game in more than a week because of the All-Star break. Holtby got a rest Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, while Ovechkin was suspended for skipping the All-Star Game because of an injury.
Those players got off to a slow start against the Islanders, but put together a heck of a finish with Holtby slamming the door and Ovechkin scoring on a one-timer with 2:40 left.
"Obviously it feels a little bit hard in the first period," Ovechkin said. "Practicing is one thing, but when you're playing, it's a totally different thing, a different level. It was a little bit hard, but at the end, I just kept rolling and we did our job."
Ovechkin's 29th of the season followed goals by Oshie and Andre Burakovsky as Washington avoided what would have been its first three-game skid. The Capitals still haven't lost consecutive games in regulation, something Ovechkin credited to the team's mentality.
That mentality could have been shaken after a snowstorm and the All-Star break threw off the Capitals' schedule. A 5-2 loss to the Panthers without Ovechkin and Holtby wasn't pretty.
But instead of letting things snowball, the Capitals matched the Islanders' intensity in a game that had intensity reminiscent of their playoff series last spring. There was jawing back and forth, some extra pushing and shoving and some big hits.
"It was a great game to play in. We did a lot of good things, the intensity's high," said New York captain John Tavares, who was leveled by Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen in the third period. "It was tight, not too many power plays, physical, (the) teams were skating well."
Mikhail Grabovski scored against one of his former teams, and Josh Bailey also had a goal for the Islanders, who got 20 saves from Jaroslav Halak. At the other end of the ice, Holtby stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced for his league-leading 31st win of the season.
It was the Islanders' first trip back at Verizon Center since Game 7 of the first-round series in April. Coach Jack Capuano was proud of his team's play, but not the result.
"One of the best games we've played in this building and still come away with no points," Capuano said. "Hard-fought game, it's tough to come away with nothing."
A lot of opponents have left Washington with zero points this season, as the Capitals improved to 19-4-2 at home. This one was thanks to their captain and leading goal scorer, who found plenty open space in the high slot for Nicklas Backstrom to dish the puck to him with the game on the line.
Ovechkin made it count.
"He's a goal scorer," Holtby said of Ovechkin. "That's what we need him to do. He came through in the right time. That's the way our team is, is every guy has their role and everyone seems to be doing it. That's Ovi's role, and he did it tonight."
NOTES: Islanders F Cal Clutterbuck crashed into the boards in the third period, returned to the game and was scheduled to be re-evaluated Friday, Capuano said. ... Burakovsky has seven goals and six assists in his past 14 games. ... Capitals D Taylor Chorney played despite dealing with flu-like symptoms.