That’s More Like It – Heading into Monday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Washington Capitals found themselves in very unfamiliar territory. They occupied ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one spot south of the final playoff spot and a mere two points out of 13th place in the conference.
The sliding Caps – 3-7-1 in their previous 11 and 1-5-1 in their previous seven – needed any kind of win against a good Phoenix team that came in with a solid 8-2-2 mark in their previous dozen contests.
An ugly win would have done it, but the Caps went one better. They turned in a solid 60-minute effort, didn’t collapse when that strong effort still found them facing a 2-0 deficit midway through the game, and forged a 4-3 comeback win over the Coyotes.
“Any kind of win when you’ve lost the last four games in a row is what you want,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ll take anything.”
“The come-from-behind is nice,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “I think we’ve been able to do that before in the past. When it’s 2-0 for them, you can go one of two ways. You can fold the tent and things really get sour, then there’s no life in the building and everyone’s looking around or you can push back. I think our team got mad and we pushed back. You start moving your feet and you start with little things and from that you get goals and you get success.”
The Caps limited the Coyotes’ chances, got some good breaks of their own and were rewarded for their efforts in the end. It certainly wasn’t in Washington’s game plan to play catch-up against a well-structured and disciplined team like the Coyotes, but the Caps were able to come away with two much needed points in the end.
“You like to play with the lead and play ahead in the game and not be chasing for a lot of the game,” says Caps forward Mike Knuble. “But when it came down to it the third and the game was teetering and could have gone either way, I think we were pretty happy with our response. We capitalized on a 5-on-3 [power play], which we haven’t done and it turns out that’s the difference in the game. A power play goal like that getting a chance 5-on-3, and it turns out to be the winner. That’s what we haven’t gotten.”
Laich scored what would prove to be the game-winner on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period.
“Obviously, it’s not fun to lose,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s always fun to be back on track. Makes it much easier for you if you win hockey games and [then you] come [to] practice the next morning and smile a little bit more.”
The 200 Club – For Boudreau, Monday’s win was his 200th behind the Washington bench. Only Bryan Murray (343) has more victories as a Capitals head coach.
Boudreau’s 200th win came in his 326th game as an NHL coach, besting Don Chery’s prior mark of 200 wins in 341 games behind an NHL bench. It must be noted, however, that all of Cherry’s wins came in regulation time prior to the introduction of overtime and the shootout.
“I would have traded 199 of them for that one today,” says Boudreau. “When you don’t win for any length of time it gets tougher. It came at a good time.”
Spark Plug – Washington played a strong first period, but it was down 1-0 heading into the waning seconds of the frame. Radim Vrbata scooped up a John Carlson pass and took off to score a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to put the Coyotes on the board first at 4:33 of the first period.
Caps winger Matt Hendriicks took it upon himself to make sure his team retained momentum going into the second even if it dod not exit the first with a lead. With 54 seconds left, he challenged Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura, a fight Hendricks clearly won.
Few are better at picking the right spot for a scrap than Hendricks is.
“Under a minute to go in the first,” he notes, “we’re down by a goal and I was trying to get a little spark going before we went in [to the dressing room]. I thought we had a good period. Obviously we had a little breakdown there and I wanted to continue that in and the guys responded.”
Redemption – Carlson doesn’t make many mistakes, but when he does, he seems to have a knack for redeeming himself. His turnover led to the first Phoenix goal, but Carlson got it back when he collected an errant pass in the offensive zone and fired it through a maze of players and into the net for Washington’s first goal of the game at 8:27 of the second.
“It felt really good,” says Carlson of his goal. “Just from a team aspect we needed that to get us going. We haven’t been getting too many bounces. There are 10 people skating by the net and it squeaks in. Cody [Eakin]’s goes in off someone’s stick and that’s what you need to jumpstart us. You saw after that we had the spark and momentum and everyone seemed to be going.”
Special Delivery – Laich’s power play goal ended an 0-for-28 streak of extra-man futility for the Capitals. Although Washington was victimized by two Phoenix shorthanded goals on the night, the Caps did kill off both Phoenix power plays without incident.
Streak Stopper – Backstrom’s goal at 1:52 of the third period gave the Caps their first lead of the night at 3-2. Alex Ovechkin was awarded an assist on the goal, and the points ended four-game scoring droughts for both players.
For Ovechkin, the four games without a point matched the longest scoring drought of his career. He went four games without a point once previously, in Feb. 2007.
Semin Scratched – Winger Alexander Semin – once a 40-goal scorer in the NHL – was a healthy scratch on Monday. It was the first time the enigmatic forward was a healthy scratch since his rookie season of 2003-04. Semin has two goals and three points to go along with a minus-4 in his last 11 games. He also leads the Capitals with 28 penalty minutes and 14 minor penalties.
“We’ve talked about it,” says Boudreau. “I guess the talk has gone away from it because we were starting to lose. He’s taken penalties seven games in a row. At some point, you have to be accountable for your errors. I don’t like doing those things to people who are that talented, but everybody’s got to know that everybody’s accountable. It was a tough decision but it was a decision I thought that had to be made for the group.”
The 600 Club – Caps left wing Jason Chimera played in the 600th game of his NHL career tonight at Verizon Center, nearly 11 years after making his NHL debut. Chimera skated in his first NHL game as a member of his hometown Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 9, 2000 against Los Angeles.
Work Boots – Knuble led all Washington forwards with 20:47 in ice time, his highest single-game total this season and nearly six minutes more than his nightly average for the season. The veteran winger was on the ice in the waning seconds as the Caps protected a one-goal lead. He finished the night with three shots on goal and two hits and played a strong game from start to finish.
Dima Debut – Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov acquitted himself well on Monday in his NHL debut. Recalled from AHL Hershey on Sunday, Orlov logged 11:56 and finished with three hits and a blocked shot.
“I was very happy with him,” says Boudreau of Orlov. “He didn’t try to do too much in his first game. He played it smart and took a lot in the last 24 hours, all in English and did pretty well at it.”
First Strike – Phoenix came into Monday’s game with a 9-0-3 mark this season in games in which it scored the first goal. Since Dave Tippet took over as the Phoenix head coach in 2009-10, that mark was an even more impressive 79-8-12.
It’s 76-9-12 now.
Reborn Boyd – Phoenix center Boyd Gordon was a first-round pick (17th overall) for the Capitals in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Until this season, he had spent his entire pro career in the Washington organization.
The 2010-11 season was Gordon’s seventh in a Washington sweater. He averaged 13:03 per night in ice time and totaled three goals and six assists for nine points in 60 games. He was also a minus-5.
With his assist against his former team tonight, Gordon has now exceeded his point total from ’10-11, doing so in just 19 games. He has three goals and 10 points for Phoenix while averaging 16:32 a night with a team-high plus-8.
Gordon’s best season with the Caps was 2006-07 when he set single-season career standards for goals (seven), assists (22), points (29) plus-minus (plus-10) and average ice time (15:50).
Good health, a change of scenery and a good opportunity with the Coyotes have seemingly been a boon to the 28-year-old’s career. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up, he’s one of the game’s many great guys.
Changing Sweaters – Phoenix netminder Jason LaBarbera made his third career start against the Capitals on Monday, and his first since the 2005-06 season.
LaBarbera has started three games against Washington with three different teams. In 2003-04, he started and won against the Capitals as a member of the New York Rangers. In 2005-06, he stared and lost against Washington while playing with the Los Angeles Kings.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman led all Washington skaters with 26:18 in ice time … Backstrom, Laich and Cody Eakin paced the Caps with four shots on goal each … Troy Brouwer led the Caps with six hits … Karl Alzner paced the Caps with four blocked shots.