WASHINGTON — Lars Eller looked determined not to let the Washington Capitals lose another game at home, so he took things into his own hands.
Eller scored two goals, including the winner late in the third period, and added an assist to help the Capitals beat the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night. Though Washington was largely outplayed and outshot, the Danish center was arguably the best player on the ice, drawing two penalties and committing one as part of an eventful outing.
“Sometimes you have some games where most things are just going right for you,” Eller said after the Capitals improved to 2-3 at home. “And I think tonight was one of those games for our line and I think we even could’ve had a couple more.”
The Islanders could’ve had more goals, too, were it not for Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby, who made 15 of his 35 saves in the third period. New York outshot Washington 38-19 and then 16-2 in the third period.
Holtby said the Capitals should feel “lucky” to win a game they would lose more often than not if repeated. The Islanders felt as if they deserved better.
“Should’ve had it,” coach Doug Weight said. “It would be nice to have it. It felt like we earned it. We battled. We gave up two shots in the third. It’s disappointing.”
Islanders captain John Tavares scored his 12th goal of the season, one behind Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead, and Anders Lee had two goals. New York’s power play went 2 for 4 and has scored on seven of its past 14 opportunities after starting the season 2 for 33.
“You go through swings like this throughout the course of the year,” Islanders winger Josh Bailey said. “Early on, things weren’t going that well and we were able to tweak some things. And when you get hot you just want to ride it as long as you can.”
Eller was hot Thursday night from his first shift. He raced down the ice on a backcheck and sent the puck up ice to set up Taylor Chorney’s goal, just the fourth time the Capitals scored first in 13 games.
Starting strong was a point of emphasis in recent days, and Chorney’s first goal since Jan. 1 set a more positive tone.
“I feel like we’ve been chasing the game lately,” said Alex Chiasson, who scored his first goal with the Capitals to make it 3-2 in the second. “It’s nice to get on the board early. I think it allows the coach to roll four lines a little more and get everyone into their game.”
Eller scored his second goal of the season late in the first period and then came up huge with the game winner, beating Jaroslav Halak on a slap shot off the rush with 3:21 left to put the Capitals ahead for good. Eller went to Montreal and Halak to St. Louis when they were traded for each other in 2010.
“He was flying all over the ice, both sides of the puck,” Chorney said about Eller. “When Lars is moving his feet like that, he’s such a strong guy. He’s tough to contain. You could tell he was playing with a lot of confidence tonight, and he got rewarded for it.”
Eller only had the chance to put Washington ahead because Holtby withstood an Islanders onslaught in the third. He made two big saves on a late penalty kill and was up to the task when the ice was tilted in his direction.
“He just didn’t look fazed at all,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Every big save he had to come up with, he did for us throughout the whole game.”
NOTES: Halak finished with 15 saves. … Islanders D Adam Pelech didn’t make the trip and is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
Islanders: Return home to face the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night.
Capitals: Visit the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.
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