New York Islanders right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) and Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov collide during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Sprong scores early, Capitals shut out Islanders 1-0

Sprong scores early, Capitals shut out Islanders 1-0

WASHINGTON — Daniel Sprong didn’t make the crowd wait long for something to cheer about in the first NHL game with fans in Washington in over 400 days, and the Capitals kept the good vibrations going to finish off a mini three-game sweep of the New York Islanders.

Sprong scored 1:29 in for his third goal in two games in place of injured captain Alex Ovechkin, Vitek Vanecek made 18 saves and the Capitals shut out the Islanders 1-0 on Tuesday night to win their first home game with fans since March 4, 2020. It was worth the wait for the 2,133 in attendance who saw their team reclaim first place in the neck-and-neck East Division.

“Even 2,000 fans makes a big difference,” winger Tom Wilson said. “It felt like your first NHL game all over again. There’s no words to describe what it feels like to have the fans back in the rink.”

Sprong continues to make the most of his opportunity to fill in on the top line for Ovechkin, who missed a second consecutive game with a lower-body injury. Despite playing again without Ovechkin and injured defenceman Justin Schultz, the Capitals held the Islanders to 18 shots, the fewest by an opponent this season.

“We was great today on the offence,” Vanecek said after his second NHL shutout. “We was a lot in the O-zone, and that’s where we want to play. You don’t want to play defence. That’s not fun. We want to play offence.”

Offence isn’t coming easy for the Islanders, who didn’t score an even-strength goal in picking up one point out of a possible six in three games against Washington. They were shut out by a rookie goaltender for the second time in six games and third time overall in that span.

“It’s not always going to go your way,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “Right now, it’s difficult. It’s not easy for us, but this is where we grow as a team.”

New York’s rookie goalie, Ilya Sorokin, made his biggest of 32 saves on a breakaway by Anthony Mantha early in the third period to keep the score close. Sorokin got the start after Semyon Varlamov was a surprise scratch with “a little bit of soreness” coach Barry Trotz doesn’t think is a long-term concern.

After Sprong’s 10th goal of the season on the game’s first shot, there were more fists flying and shoves exchanged than quality scoring chances. Washington’s Zdeno Chara took exception to a hit from behind by Matt Martin on new teammate Michael Raffl and fought Martin.

“I don’t have a big issue with Zee’s response to it,” Martin said. “He’s obviously sticking up for his teammate, and I’m fine with it.”

Raffl, who played his first home game since the Capitals acquired him at the trade deadline, hugged Chara when the 6-foot-9 defenceman was released from the penalty box. Coach Peter Laviolette called Chara’s response “awesome” and evidence of why the former Boston captain is such a respected leader.

“That’s just the type of person he is,” Laviolette said. “He didn’t like the hit, and he went right after it. Our guys, everybody, we are all much appreciative that he is able to jump in like that and take care of things.”


The Capitals were the second-last American NHL team to get some fans back for home games, at 10% capacity. After such a long wait, the “Let’s go Caps!” chants began well before pregame warmups got underway.

“When we was going through the warmups, they was yelling,” Vanecek said. “It’s something different. It’s better hockey. You can stay focusing in the game because they’re yelling, they’re trying to push you. It’s really nice to have them back.”

Only Chicago is left playing in an empty arena among the 24 teams in the U.S., along with all seven in Canada.


Trotz promised “a change or two” to his lineup after consecutive losses to the Capitals and made a few. Josh Bailey earned a promotion to the top line alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle, Oliver Wahlstrom replaced Michael Dal Colle among forwards and Braydon Coburn went in for Noah Dobson on defence.

“I’m just trying to try different combinations,” Trotz said. “It’s a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle right now. A Rubik’s Cube would probably be a better analogy to that than a puzzle. But yeah we’re just trying to get a little more production.”


The Capitals went back to Vanecek in net despite Ilya Samsonov stopping 47 of 50 shots in consecutive victories at the Islanders. That’s a calculated move by the coaching staff as it evaluates who might be Washington’s Game 1 playoff starter.

“It’s important that we continue to play both goaltenders,” Laviolette said. “I think the playoffs are probably built for multiple goalies in today’s game.”


Islanders: Visit the Rangers on Thursday in the opener of a home-and-home series between New York rivals.

Capitals: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in the first of two in a row against them in Washington.


Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at


More AP NHL: and

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press


Just Posted

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Riley Oldford, 16, suffers from cerebral palsy. He was the first youth in the Northwest Territories to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here he receives the needle from nurse practitioner Janie Neudorf in Yellowknife on Thursday May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden
People with disabilities even more alone during pandemic: cerebral palsy spokeswoman

YELLOWKNIFE — Riley Oldford is usually out playing sledge hockey or hanging… Continue reading

Most Read