After a very lackluster performance in Tuesday’s loss to the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals were on a mission to put that game in the past and came out strong and finished even stronger in a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad put forth a tenacious effort, especially in the offensive zone, and had a season high 47 shots in the win. If not for some great play by Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald the Caps could have easily had at least seven or eight goals on the night. Boudreau was very pleased with his team’s effort and apparently his message to the players about going to the net and then getting the puck on net was finally implemented and all four Capitals forward lines were strong tonight. Goaltender Brent “Johnny” Johnson made 27 saves for Washington.
“I think there is a lot of pride and character [on the team] and it was really uncharacteristic of us the way we played the last game. I think the guys individually were upset with themselves and they came out and proved that [Tuesday] was not the way they are,” started Boudreau, “I thought we did a really good job in their zone, funneling to the net, going to the net but still have a guy in position to be safe.”
Alexander Ovechkin had another strong game beginning the scoring with his 14th goal of the game in the first period on the power play and then adding two third period assists for a three point night. However, there was a major scare when the Great #8 left the game two thirds of the way through the first period after he was run into by an Islanders player. Ovechkin did not return in the first period but was back in the second and he said his “skate was broken.” Boudreau confirmed after the game it was an equipment problem although some of his comments seemed to indicate that Ovechkin may have hurt himself because he commented that Ovechkin “begged me for ice time so I knew he was okay.” That doesn’t sound like an equipment problem although I spoke with Alex after the game and he seemed fine and was happy with the team’s effort and had the following to say when 47 shots on net by Washington was brought up.
“It’s a lot. I think we played well all three periods. We made some mistakes but Johnny made some great saves,” said Ovechkin.
The Caps power play was very good again tonight, notching three tallies, after being the lone bright spot in Tuesday’s loss to Florida. Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, and Viktor Kozlov all went hard to the net and worked to screen MacDonald as much as possible all evening and it paid off. Fehr had a strong game and got his third goal of the season.
On the defensive side of things, the Caps still have some breakdowns but that is understandable with four of the six defensemen being guys who began the year in Hershey. Also, another apparent bad bounce seemed to cost the Caps a goal tonight that would have knotted the game at two in the second period. An Islander dump in was deflected and went into the net while Johnny had come out to play the puck on the wall but it was quickly disallowed. On replay the puck clearly went off of the linesman so it could not count. The call brought a sense of relief to Boudreau, who also admitted to not knowing that the goal could not stand because it went off of an official and he was also beginning to wonder about the team’s fortunes or lack thereof.
“I’d like to sit here and say yeah, yeah that is 52A,” stated Boudreau on the rule, and then when pressed on how he felt immediately after the puck went into the net, “ I’m saying we are snake bit and oh my goodness,” finished Boudreau on the freaky play that luckily was not an Islanders goal.
Defensemen Karl Alzner, playing in just his fifth NHL game of his career, picked up his first NHL point on Donald Brashear’s game winning goal and played a very good game after a couple of poor ones.
“He came to me and said ‘I was terrible the last game what do I have to do?’ and we had a little talk and I thought again that is what great athletes do is they redeem themselves and they play good and I thought Karl, that was the best he’s played so far,” said Boudreau on Alzner.
Alzner had the following to say on his game since coming up from Hershey on November 26th.
“I think I’ve played two pretty good games, one good game, and two bad games so I have a medium or not the best percentage, certainly not where I want it to be but I’m slowly gaining confidence,’ said Alzner.
As far as the team’s high level of energy in the game against New York, Alzner said, “We talked about it a lot and we had lost the last two, especially the last one at home, and we knew that was the way were going to have to win. We knew they were going to forecheck hard and come with a lot of energy and we wanted to key on their D and keep pucks down low. Everybody contributed tonight and it was perfect.”
Notes: Alzner had a team high 20:16 of ice time. Forward Keith Aucoin was recalled from Hershey this morning and Graham Mink was sent back to Hershey. Aucion showed a lot of energy and jump and nearly scored on a breakaway in the second period. The Caps are now 14-9-3 for 31 points and have a five point lead on the second place Carolina Hurricanes, who lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2, tonight in Carolina under new/returning Coach Paul Maurice. The Florida Panthers won again Thursday evening beating Buffalo, 2-1, at home and still trail the Caps by six points in the Southeast Division. The Caps next two games are on the road, at Toronto on Saturday night and then at Carolina on Sunday at 5pm.