The Washington Capitals seem to be taking the approach of correcting one issue at a time and it seems to be paying off. The Capitals swept the Carolina Hurricanes on the road for the first time since the franchise moved from Hartford to Raleigh.
The 3-2 Washington victory was their third in four games. The Caps seem to be finding a rhythm on offense with some familiar names starting to appear on the score sheet once again.
Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and if you saw the game, you saw that after Ovechkin scored he simply skated to the corner turned, raised his arms and let out a sigh of relief. His linemates joined him to celebrate Ovechkin's first goal in eight games.
Alexander Semin also recorded a point, an assist on Washington's first goal by Mathieu Perreault. Semin recorded an assist in the Caps' last game before the holiday break, a home shootout loss to Pittsburgh.
Semin appeared to work on every shift against Carolina, grinding in the corners and digging for loose pucks. Semin was working hard in the corner when he threw the puck in front the net where Perrault was standing. Canes goalie Cam Ward went for the puck and missed; Perrault did not, poking it past him for a 1-0 Caps lead.
The last time Semin recorded points in consecutive games was at the beginning of the month. Semin had recorded a point in 14 of 16 games during one stretch this season but recently, much like the rest of the Capitals offense, went into a four-game scoreless drought.
Perrault would not finish the first period after scoring his goal. Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason would end Perrault's night by crushing him with a cheap shot, breaking his nose. Gleason was given a 10-minute misconduct penalty and a five-minute major for charging which came with a game misconduct.
Washington tough man Matt Hendricks would come to Perreault's defense and gain a two-minute roughing penalty cutting the Washington power play to three minutes, which Washington failed to cash in on.
Michael Neuvirth's streak of four consecutive starts ended on this night. Semyon Varlamov would get his first start in five games. Head coach Bruce Boudreau stated that Neuvirth was sore following the morning skate and decided to give Varlamov the green light.
Varlamov came up big in period one stopping every Carolina shot as the Hurricanes outshot Washington 16 to 8 in the first period and 35 to 30 for the game.
The Canes would manage to tie the game in the second period on a goal from Jussi Jokinen. After a bad line change the Canes would have a 2-on-1 and Jokinen would bury the puck.
Alex Ovechkin would assist on Dave Steckel's goal putting the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin, working to the front of the net, lost the puck to Steckel, who picked it up and beat Ward.
The Caps would increase their lead to two with Ovechkin's 13th of the season. Ovechkin wristed a bouncing puck into a wide open net as cam Ward couldn't get back in time.
During Ovechkin's eight-game goalless streak he hit numerous posts and missed many bouncing pucks, so it seemed fitting that the goal to break the drought would be a puck that essentially bounced right to him.
Mike Green, who recorded the only assist on Ovechkin's goal, said, "He's been working so hard, and not getting bounces. Even that shot, it bounced, and he just had the right hand-eye coordination. Maybe in the past, it would have missed or something, and that would have been our luck. But it was big for him to get one today."
The Canes would pull to within one but Washington was able to kill off two 3rd period penalties as Varlamov made several great saves in preserving the win.
The Caps play the Montreal Canadians on Tuesday night in Washington. This is the last game the Caps play before travelling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins in the much anticipated Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
The Caps have a few more issues to iron out. The power play is still very much an issue as Washington was 0-2 with five minutes of extra man time against Carolina but everything else seems to be falling into place.
Boudreau reminded his team on an episode of HBO's 24/7 that the Blackhawks had lost nine in a row at one point last season and still went on to win the Stanley Cup.
If the Caps can continue working out these issues that caused their recent slump them maybe next year a coach will be overheard saying to his team, the Capitals lost eight in a row last year and Alex Ovechkin had just 13 goals at the end of December and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. You never know in a long NHL season what can happen.