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Capitals start Western Conference swing by blanking Coyotes

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TEMPE, Ariz. — The Washington Capitals kicked off their three-game road swing out West with a dominant 4-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Mullet Arena. Dylan Strome had a two-goal performance and Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper recorded his league-leading fifth shutout of the season with 27 saves.

Washington took control of the game in the final three minutes of the second period when Sonny Milano and Tom Wilson scored, turning a one-goal contest into a 3-0 lead.

Arizona (14-26-5), which sits near the cellar of the Western Conference, appeared to get a goal back early in the third but its power-play tally was waved off after Washington (25-17-6) successfully challenged for offside.

Strome, the Coyotes’ former first-round pick (third overall) in the 2015 draft, then scored his second goal of the night off a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov with 11:19 left in regulation.

Svrluga: Tom Wilson is back — and the Capitals are a lot better because of it

Thursday marked the first time the Capitals played at the 5,000-seat Mullet Arena, which houses both the Coyotes and Arizona State University’s men’s hockey team on ASU’s campus.

Strome gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead only 3:03 into the game on a redirect of a shot from Dmitry Orlov.

His two goals gave him 11 on the season, making him the only Capital besides Alex Ovechkin with at least 10 goals and 20 assists.

The Capitals also had a goal waved off after Lars Eller appeared to score early in the second, only to have the Coyotes successfully challenge for goaltender interference.

Sonny Milano, coming off a downer of a summer, is on the rise with the Capitals

A few minutes later, Milano gave Washington a 2-0 lead, a goal that came as a result of strong pressure on the forecheck. It was Milano’s eight goal of the season and his second in three games. Wilson scored on the power play with 1:19 left in the frame, his second in three games since returning from knee surgery last spring.

Washington’s trip continues Saturday at Vegas before the Capitals finish their travels Tuesday in Colorado.

Here is what to know about Thursday’s game:

Capitals players welcomed the intimate atmosphere of Mullet Arena. Washington has a handful of players who played college hockey: T.J. Oshie, Nick Jensen, Nic Dowd, Conor Sheary and Charlie Lindgren.

Oshie said after the morning skate the ice was “phenomenal” and was potentially the best ice they’ve skated on this season. He said Mullet Arena reminded him of the rink at the University of North Dakota.

“They did a great job with the locker room setup for NHL teams coming in here,” Laviolette said. “It seemed great out there this morning; the ice was good. It’s compact, and when you put a lot of people in a compact building, it can be really, really good.”

Washington scratched Anthony Mantha for the fourth time in six games. Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette noted earlier in the week that the team was going through a “rotation” of forwards to take out of the lineup to try to find the right fit with the returns of Nicklas Backstrom and Wilson.

In addition to Mantha (who has a $5.7 million salary cap hit), Laviolette has also scratched Strome for a game and Eller for another before scratching Mantha the past two contests. Nicolas Aube-Kubel has been taking Mantha’s place in the lineup. The in-season pickup has played on the top line with Ovechkin and Strome the last couple games and has acted as a physical threat next to two offensive scorers.

Nic Dowd was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Monday after he was crunched along the boards by the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck. Washington has provided no further update on Dowd’s injury. Players must remain on IR for a minimum of seven days after the injury. The center did not travel with the team on their road trip.

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