It only took three days but the Jason “Arnott” headlines can begin in earnest. The Caps wesbite led with "Ready Arnott".
Along with claiming Marco Sturm off waivers last Friday, the Capitals made two trades at the deadline on Monday bringing Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman to the nation’s capital. With new faces in the line-up against the Blues on Thursday, the Caps played a familiar looking game.
The Capitals were sluggish to start, awoke somewhat in the middle period and started skating every shift, four lines deep, in the third, eventually winning on Arnotts goal.
Although Washington outshot the Blues 10-6 in the opening frame, they would trail headed into the first intermission. Washington failed to score a first period goal for the sixth straight game but allowed one for the 51st time this season.
The Caps have been outscored 51-38 in the first period this season and the 38 goals are the least scored by any team in the NHL during the opening frame this year.
On the Blues first goal, Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz looked as though he was sleep-skating through the play, leaving fellow blue liner Scott Hannan stuck in the middle, the Blues produced what amounted to a three-on-one and a half for St.Louis.
The Blues Alex Steen converted a pass from Chris Stewart past Caps starting goaltender Michael Neuvirth. The goal was Steen’s 18th of the season giving the Blues a 1-0 first period lead.
Capitals agitator and tough man Matt Bradley delivered a three-punch knockout of the Blues Tyson Strachan prior to the end of the first period in an attempt to jump-start his team. While I do not know if the Bradley KO woke the Caps up, or if they really woke up at all, I do know they scored two goals in the middle stanza on just eight shots.
The first goal came just 3:08 into the second period as Matt Hendricks worked the puck free from two Blues forwards in the corner. Ovechkin had been standing behind the net and found the puck Hendricks had dug out. He then slid a sweet pass through the crease area to Caps defenseman Scott Hannan.
Hannan who would be the most unlikely of goal scorers in the line-up for both teams, collected the pass, squared himself to the net and patiently wristed the shot over the glove of Blues starting goalie, Ty Conklin. The goal was Hannan's first of the season and first talley since - get this - November-23, 2009, a span of 118 games.
“When I see the opportunity,” says Hannan, “I try to jump in. Obviously, my end is first and foremost and then it’s killing penalties and doing that. But if I can help out on that side of the puck, it’s anyway I can.”
St.Louis wasted no time in taking back the lead. They won a face-off in their own zone less than two-minutes later and after the Blues BJ Crombeen caught Caps defenseman John Erskine pinching off the draw, took off up the right wing with the puck.
Blues forward Chris Porter joined him on his left wing in an odd man rush. Brombeen looked Porters way but took the shot himself, beating Neuvirth for his sixth of the year, putting St. Louis back on top by one goal. Nicklas Backstrom would tie the game for Washington less than two minutes after Brobeen’s goal. Backstrom has apparently been watching the Washington Nationals spring training updates in his spare time.
Nicki’s 16th goal this season came when a pass from Mike Knubble was deflected into the air, flying right in the direction of the Caps Swedish center. Backstrom took a half baseball swing at the puck and after legally connecting, one-hopped it past Conklin and into the Blues net and tying the game. Conklin could do nothing watch in horror as Backstrom kept his stick below the cross bar.
Washington would turn up the heat in the third period but could not seem to score the go-ahead goal.
The new second line that has Jason Arnott centering Brooks Laich and Alex Semin seems to be picking up steam. The trio looks as though they have been playing together for more than two games. Both Laich and Semin seem comfortable with Arnott. They already seem to know where each other will be and when the puck will be there.
“I especially like the way Laich, Semin and Arnott are playing. I think they like playing with each other. I’m probably not going to change them up...Oh who am I kidding, I’m going to change them up eventually,” Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Boudreau’s comments drew laughter from the media in the room as he takes some heat for not staying with his line combinations long enough at times.
Arnott added, “"We're talking a lot on the bench, if we keep that up, hopefully our chemistry will keep going."
After Arnott collected the primary assist in the game-tying goal against the Islanders on Tuesday, he would collect his first goal in a Caps jersey in scoring the game winner on Thursday night.
With just a little over five minutes remaining in Thursdays game, Laich forced a neutral zone turnover and got the puck to Alexander Semin who took off with Arnott on a two-on-one rush. Semin elegantly slid a perfect pass to Arnott who was staring at an empty left side of the cage. The Caps new second line center and 17 –year-NHL vet did not miss with the pass landing directly on his tape. He buried it past a frantic Conklin for the game winning goal.
The Caps would hold on to win behind rookie sensation Michael Neuvirth, who set a new Capitals record in recording his 21st win of the season. Neuvirth becomes the winningiest rookie goalie in Caps history, surpassing Bob Mason who had 20 wins in 1986-87.
Neuvirth seems to have secured the No.1 spot between the pipes the rest of the way for Washington this season. The Caps other sensational young goalie, Semyon Varlamov was injured in practice last week and today Washington called up Braden Holtby from Hershey, who is also just back from injury.
The new acquisitions are definitely making their presence known on the ice. Defenseman Dennis Wideman again led Washington in ice time with 22-minutes and 22-seconds played. He made several good plays in front of Neuvirth, possibly saving a goal or two. Wideman was also present on the power play and penalty kill.
Sturm again had several good scoring chances and seems to be playing pain free, showing no ill effects from his ailing knees.
The Capitals won their first pair of back-to-back games on home ice since Nov. 26-28. That is the longest the Caps had gone without back-to-back wins at home since the 2003-04 season.
Washington has won three straight, five out of six and six of their last nine games. Each of their victories during that span has been by one goal. The Capitals are now 18-7-10 in one-goal games this season.