While three new players made successful debuts for the Capitals last night, it was their team captain who once again willed Washington to a victory they were fortunate to earn. For 59 minutes and 13 seconds the Washington Capitals appeared headed for an all too familiar fate, another shutout loss at home.
Alex Ovechkin's beautiful and determined overtime goal which gave his team a 2-1 victory over the the New York Islanders on Tuesday night was the stuff that changes seasons and teams. Ovechkin has carried this team squarely on his back since the All-Star break and his game winner last night was highlight of the game and this story.
Yes, the Caps have had great goaltending and a choking defense at times since the break, but just at times. When Ovechkin picked up a loose puck along the half boards in the Islanders zone, he had a jump in his step and look on his face that has not been seen in these parts since before the playoffs started last season.
It was a look that gave me the impression that he had simply had enough. Enough of the Islanders, who surrender the most goals in NHL in five-on-five situations, enough of not scoring goals and enough of the fans who were rightly booing his team.
Ovechkin turned Islanders center Frans Nielsen into an instructional video on how not to defend anything on ice-skates. Ovechkin turned Nielsen left and then right, beat him like a rented mule and made him look like a baseball player (no offense meant) doing standing upper body stretches, twisting side to side.
As long as Nicklas Backstrom stayed on sides, you knew Ovie was going to score once he got to the Caps blue line. He just had that look. Ovechkin finished off the Islanders with a dazzling backhanded goal, giving the Caps the improbable last-minute come from behind overtime win.
They missed the puck in our zone and I had full speed so it was kind of a pretty goal," Ovechkin said. "I'll take it." He should, he earned it. Ovechkin's 25th of the season was his NHL leading ninth game winning goal on his NHL leading 303rd shot of the season.
This night was different for Washington, watching the game I never actually got the feeling the Caps were going to lose, and you know I would tell you. Islander’s goalie Nathan Lawson was just 1-4-1 with a 4.56 GAA and .879 save pct. coming into Tuesday’s game but he looked like Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy all wrapped up into one last night.
He deserved a better fate on the night but his counterpart at the other end, Caps starter Michael Neuvirth, also deserved the win. Lawson stopped the first 39 Capitals shots he faced but allowed two goals on the next three Washington shots. Neuvirth was magnificent as well in making 28 saves in the Washington net.
The only goal Neuvirth allowed was after a bad neutral zone turn over by Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson. Carlson had his pocket picked allowing the two-on-one, as the Islanders Matt Moulson scored halfway through the middle period staking New York to the 1-0 lead.
Washington has looked horrible at home lately. The win against the Isles last night was just their sixth in their last 19 home contests. The caps are 6-7-6 over that span.
To make matters worse during that stretch, the Caps had gone scoreless for the last 239 minutes and 55 seconds at home, scoring just one goal in their last four home games. That changed with just 47.1 seconds remaining in last evening's game, as Brooks Laich would save the day.
With Neuvirth on the Bench following the traditional last minute down by one goal time-out over with, Brooks Laich skated to the front of the Islanders crease. New teammate and veteran center Jason Arnott used his big body to shield an Isles defender and retrieved the puck from behind the net.
Arnott slid a sweet soft pass out front, where Laich scored on a one-timer just inside the left post to tie the score. The barometric pressure rose immediately inside the Verizon center as caps fans and coaches alike all let out a collective scream and sigh of relief.
Three Capitals made their debuts for the Washington on Tuesday and all pay immediate dividends. Forwards Marco Sturm and Jason Arnott joined defenseman Dennis Wideman in starting their Caps careers on a good note.
Sturm had a breakaway on his second shift of the game. He tried to go five-hole on Lawson, and the puck did trickle through the New York goaltender but it skittered just wide. Sturm finished with 12:46 in ice time and had two shots on goal.
Arnott set up Laich’s game-tying goal with a perfect pass from behind the net. The assist was Arnott’s first point in nine games. He finished with three shots on goal.
Wideman was huge and played as though he has been in the system all year. He led the team with 26 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time, which was 5:23 more than any of his teammates. He had three shots on net, had four hits, blocked two shots, and was plus two.
The Caps had not won at home since Feb. 6. The win also allowed the Caps to sweep the season series from the Islanders. It was not an easy sweep as every game was decided by just one goal. In fact, the Caps are 11-0-3 over the past four seasons against the lsles with 11 of those games being decided by just one goal.
The Caps are going to have to fix their first period futility. Last season, the Capitals led the NHL with 92 first-period goals. Washington has now gone five straight games without scoring a first-period goal for the third time this season. The Capitals 38 first-period goals this season is the fewest of any team in the league.
Will Washington use this win to flourish down the stretch? I think so as they appeared to be a different team last night, even when they were losing and being shut out.They were even spotted moving more than the puck on the power play and although they failed to score again with the extra man, they looked a little crisper.
To come back and get the point and then get the win is big," Laich said. "The new guys I thought were great...For us, you look and you've won four your last five, five of our last seven. Hopefully we're turning it around a little bit."