Capitals roll past Rangers for fifth straight victory


NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals shook off a little early rust, capitalized on some depth scoring and got stout goaltending from Darcy Kuemper as they cruised past the New York Rangers, 4-0, on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden for their fifth straight victory.

After Marcus Johansson put the Capitals ahead in the first period, defenseman Erik Gustafsson scored his fifth goal of the winning streak to open a 2-0 lead late in the second. Lars Eller made it 3-0 with 36.3 seconds left in the period on a nice individual effort to give the Capitals some breathing room on their way to a sixth straight road win, which matches a franchise record.

“We are not trying to do too much,” Eller said. “We are sticking to the plan. I think we are a team that can play different styles. Whatever is presented, we can play fast and physical, and we have skill. We have all the things we need to adjust.”

Kuemper was stellar as he finished with 32 saves for his third shutout. Tuesday was just his second start since he was injured Dec. 3 at Calgary.

“We have been having a great December here,” he said. “… With each win you can kind of see a little bit more confidence with how we want to play. And with everyone on the same page, we are having a lot of success.”

Washington (20-13-4) has won 10 of its past 11 and has moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals improved to 20-1-1 when they score three or more goals.

“We believed in ourselves, and we had some tough breaks,” Johansson said. “It is not easy when it starts going against you, but when we started turning it around and started to get some momentum into our game, we know we got a great team in here. It has been fun to turn this thing around.”

After blocking a shot moments prior, Conor Sheary hit the empty net from the defensive zone while the Capitals were shorthanded with 3:02 left. Sheary winced on his way to the bench but didn’t leave the game early. Defenseman Nick Jensen did not play the final minutes after taking a puck to the face, but Coach Peter Laviolette said he was “fine.”

Washington hosts Ottawa on Thursday night. Nine of the Capitals’ first 10 games following the three-day holiday break are against Eastern Conference opponents, including six against the Metro.

Igor Shesterkin (26 saves) did all he could to keep New York (19-12-5) in the game, but last year’s Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie couldn’t help the Rangers produce on the other end of the ice.

Charlie Lindgren has put on a show in December, keying Capitals’ surge

Gustafsson gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead with 2:59 left in the second on a shot from the slot. The Rangers challenged for goaltender interference after it appeared Sheary nudged Shesterkin in the crease. Replay confirmed the call and put Washington on the power play. The Capitals couldn’t capitalize on that opportunity, but they had been able to cash in on a two-man advantage in the first.

Johansson gave Washington a 1-0 lead at 8:44 with the Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren and Chris Kreider in the box. Johansson poked in a loose puck at the goal mouth after a misplay by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Defenseman Alex Alexeyev nearly doubled the visitors’ lead late in the first after his shot on an odd-man rush hit the crossbar. Alexeyev played his first game since he was injured Dec. 9 against Seattle, replacing John Carlson in the lineup.

The Rangers had a few looks to get back into the game, including a scoring chance that was reviewed midway through the second. Julien Gauthier shot the puck, and it disappeared under Kuemper’s pads. The call on the ice was no goal, and that held up under review.

Not long after, Gustafsson put Washington in command.

“Coming back from the [holiday] break, three days off … big guys are out, so it was a big road game and a big team effort from the guys here,” he said.

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

Carlson out ‘long term’

The Capitals placed Carlson on injured reserve Tuesday; he took a puck to the right side of his head in Friday’s win over Winnipeg. Carlson was taken to a hospital that night and released Saturday. Laviolette said Carlson would be out “long term.”

“He’s certainly an important player,” Laviolette said. “We talked about it this morning: Our guys have to be ready for this challenge, to give more, to do more, to keep things moving.”

Other injured players close

A handful of the Capitals’ other injured players, including forward Beck Malenstyn and defenseman Martin Fehervary, are close to returning.

Malenstyn broke a finger in early November and has been practicing with the team. He traveled to New York and took part in the morning skate. Fehervary did not travel but has shown signs of progress since suffering an upper-body injury in early December.

Forward Tom Wilson, still recovering from offseason ACL surgery, skated on his own in Washington. He shed his noncontact jersey for the first time last week.

Washington killed off all five New York power-play chances. The Rangers got 13 shots on goal across their five opportunities, but the majority of those came from the perimeter.

“They were coming down from the flanks and they had a couple miscues, so we were fortunate for that, too, but I thought [Kuemper] saw them and got a chance to read them,” Laviolette said.

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