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The Caps Fill The Gaps

Justin Schultz’s game winning goal with less than 30 seconds in regulation finally ended the streak. Had his shot not slipped past Islander’s goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals would have gone to their fifth straight overtime game. While still missing the four Russian players, the Capitals have managed to grab at least one point in each of their previous three contests, winning two. They will have, at minimum, one more outing, January 28, before even it is possible that the players could return.

Although some might see it as a problem, others, particularly those on the roster, might be seeing it as a blessing in disguise. With four star studded names unavailable, some lesser known faces have had the chance to take the ice. Among those is John Carlson. The 2008 first round pick has recorded a point in each of his previous three games by assists. In the first matchup against the Islanders, he not only registered a helper but a goal for himself, bringing his total to seven points in as many games.

Additionally, Vitek Vanecek, who has been filling in for Samsonov between the pipes, recorded 32 saves on 34 shots in the outing against the Islanders. That bumps the NHL rookie’s numbers up to 156 saves and a .918 save percentage across over 300 minutes of ice time. With the success that Vanecek has had in recent games, head coach Peter Laviolette might not have too much difficulty picking a starter once Samsonov returns to the lineup. Vanecek has lived up to the task and made his home inside the crease during his first NHL games.

Schultz, in addition to his goal, picked up an assist on the game’s opening goal during a Capitals powerplay. From just inside the blue line, Schultz released a one-time slapshot, glancing off Varlamov and onto the waiting stick of Carlson, who buried the puck.

The Capitals defense remained strong while down a man and did not allow a goal during the six penalty minutes. In their previous contest against Buffalo, the Sabres ripped three powerplay goals into Vanecek’s net.

Looking forward though, some more players might be missing from the lineup for Thursday’s contest. Lars Eller was on the receiving end of a hit where his head was sandwiched in between the elbow of Leo Komarov and the glass. He left the bench with around 10 minutes remaining in the contest. Nicklas Backstrom also took a shot to the head from an errant puck but would soon return to the ice. Another fan favourite, Tom Wilson, has missed his second consecutive game due to a lower body injury. Not wanting to aggravate the injury, the Capitals right winger has been cautious in returning to the ice, a smart move considering the already shortened season.

Three more consecutive home games are scheduled for the Capitals, one against the Islanders and two facing the Boston Bruins. After Monday night’s matchup, the Caps will hit the road and travel up to New York to face the Rangers. Then quickly returning home for a pair of games, the Capitals will host the Philadelphia Flyers.

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