The Washington Capitals entered Tuesday night's game with the Montreal Canadiens on a three game regulation losing streak and in need of a spark.
They got that and more, as Alexander Semin scored twice, Tomas Fleischmann registered a goal and two helpers, and Michal Neuvirth pushed aside 24 of 26 shots, as the Caps completed a 4-2 victory over the Habs before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
The biggest news of the day, however, was the biggest spark that could have been provided. Earlier in the day, and announced just at game time, two-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin was named as the 14th captain in Capitals' history, ending a three-game captainless stretch, the result of the trade that sent Chris Clark to Columbus.
Ovechkin was held without a point in his first game as captain, making it two games in a row the prolific scorer has been held off the scoresheet. But it was of no matter, as his countryman, Semin, tallied twice, including the icing on the cake with just over two minutes remaining.
To illustrate the point of leadership, coach Bruce Boudreau had his captain take the ice as time dwindled with the Caps fighting off the extra skater with less than a minute left.
Fleischmann played a complete game in his first start at center in the NHL, scoring the first goal of the game—unassisted—on the power play. He also helped out on both of Semin's goals as well. The flourishing touch? He even won the majority of his faceoffs, something he needed extra practice for with faceoff specialists David Steckel and Boyd Gordon in yesterday's practice.
Perhaps the only blemish on the victory was two third period penalties by veteran alternate captain Mike Knuble. He was whistled twice in the final frame, and the first ended with Benoit Pouliot's fifth goal of the season, which brought Montreal within one.
But the Caps killed the second infraction, then Semin notched the insurance goal at 17:58.
Ovechkin becomes just the sixth Russian born player to captain an NHL team. He is the second youngest captain in Capitals history, and the third youngest captain in the league.
Boudreau heaped praise upon his newly minted leader.
"I talked to him a few days ago about it," Boudreau said. "He said, 'I would accept the responsibility, but only if my teammates want me to. If they're happy with me as a captain, I'd be glad to be captain.' So he was already thinking about the team rather than thinking about himself, which is what captains do."
Ovechkin was circumspect in the locker room following the game. "We have a lot of guys who can speak and talk. But if I have to say something, I say something."
Notes: After the game, the Washington Post reported that David Steckel has signed a contract extension.
In the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Team USA defeated Team Canada in the Gold Medal game, winning 6-5 in overtime. Caps' prospect John Carlson had two goals in the game, including the game winner on a 2-on-1 breakaway in overtime.
The Capitals took a season high 43 shots and marked the eighth time this season they've recorded 40 or more. They are 7-0-1 when taking 40 or more shots.