That’s More Laich It – Brooks Laich’s overtime game-winner a dozen seconds into the extra session gave Caps coach Dale Hunter his first NHL win as a head coach, a 3-2 triumph over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday at Verizon Center. The victory also halted a four-game losing streak in regulation, the Capitals’ longest such skid in more than four years.
“I think it was Karl [Alzner] who made a quick up [after] I won the face-off,” relates Laich in describing the game-winner. “I talked to Karl throughout the game, [saying] ‘You’ve made a couple plays to me quick up through the middle. Get it up as soon as we can.’
“Then I moved it to Jason [Chimera] because I knew he had speed on the outside. I think we got lucky because their [defenseman Erik Karlsson] caught an edge and fell. Jason made a good play.
Chimera threaded a perfect feed to Laich driving the net, and he chipped it home for his second overtime game-winner of the season and the fifth of his career.
More importantly, Washington’s incremental improvement continued and the Caps showed more presence and consistency in the attack zone.
“We had lots of scoring chances throughout the whole game,” notes Hunter. “They’re forechecking hard, and it’s forechecking with three guys on the forecheck plus the [defense], so it’s a chemistry thing. It’s a pulley system; one guy goes in, the other one goes in, then the other one has to come out and the other one goes in.
“They’re getting it, and that’s why we got some great opportunities tonight. We should have scored more, but good goalie on the other side and missing the net a few times.
“As long as you get your chances, that’s what I worry about.”
Back On The Beam – Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth made 32 saves to earn his third win of the season and his first since Nov. 5. He had been winless in five straight appearances.
Making his first start in eight days, Neuvirth faced 16 shots in the first period, stopping all of them.
“It’s the way goaltenders like it,” says Neuvirth of the early action. “We did a great job. They had a lot of shots early in the game but we kept them to the outside. I don’t think they had many scoring chances or any odd-man rushes. We did a great job. The whole team battled pretty hard tonight.”
Two-Man Attack – Until Troy Brouwer’s third-period tally gave the Caps a 2-1 lead, all of Washington’s offense over a span of 239 minutes and three seconds -- a stretch of nearly four full games -- had come from just two different players..
Chimera scored the Caps’ lone goal last Saturday in Buffalo. Nicklas Backstrom supplied the Capitals’ only strike on Tuesday against St. Louis, and Chimera had the team’s only goal in Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh. Backstrom got the Caps started tonight with his ninth goal of the season at 1:58 of the first.
Leading Men – During the life of Washington’s four-game losing streak, the Capitals held a lead for just five minutes and 33 seconds of hockey of the 240 minutes that were played.
Backstrom’s early goal gave the Caps a chance to play with the lead for a change, and they ended up leading for more than half of Saturday’s game against Ottawa.
Tonight’s game was just the second in the Capitals’ last 10 in which the team never trailed.
The 500 Club – Both Laich and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin skated in career game No. 500 tonight against the Senators. Laich was originally drafted by the Sens, and he is the bridge between the Caps’ superstar of the ‘90s and the team’s modern-day star, Ovechkin.
Laich came to Washington on Feb. 18, 2004 in a trade – vilified at the time – for longtime Caps star and all-time franchise leader in goals Peter Bondra.
Ovechkin has played all 500 of his NHL games in a Caps sweater, of course. Laich will suit up for his 500th game as a member of the Capitals on Monday against the Panthers in Florida. He played in one game with the Senators before the deal.
Shooting Up – In the first two games of the Hunter administration, the Caps mustered a combined total of just 36 shots on net, and – even more worrisome – just 19 scoring chances as tabulated by the watchful eyes of Neil Greenberg of ESPN and The Washington Post. The Caps had just five scoring chances in Tuesday’s 2-1 setback to St. Louis and 14 in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Tonight, the Caps fired 35 shots on goal and took 61 shots altogether. Ottawa had 34 shots on net off 57 shot attempts. More importantly, the Caps outchanced the Sens by a 25-16 count in Saturday’s game.
The last two games marked the first time the Caps had been limited to fewer than 20 shots on goal in consecutive contests since March 20-23, 2004.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were at home on Saturday night, hosting the Portland Pirates at Giant Center.
Hershey spotted the visitors an early 1-0 lead, before roaring back for seven unanswered strikes on its way to a 7-1 pounding of the Pirates. Graham Mink and Ryan Potulny scored twice each while Matt Ford, Matt Pope and Julien Brouillette added single markers for the Bears. Jacob Micflikier had three assists; Ford and Chris Bourque each had a pair.
Dany Sabourin made 20 stops in the Hershey nets to earn the win.
The Bears hit the road now for a Sunday afternoon meeting with the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport. The 11-6-3-2 Bears are third in the AHL’s East Division, two points behind front-running Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays absorbed a 2-1 home ice loss at the hands of the Kalamazoo Wings on Saturday. David de Kastrozza scored the Stingrays’ lone goal, and Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves in a losing effort in net.
The 12-8-0-1 Stingrays sit second in the ECHL’s South Division, a single point behind Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – For the third time in as many games since Hunter took over, John Carlson paced Washington defensemen in ice time with 25:11. Carlson also led the Caps with 21:05 in even-strength ice time … Laich topped the Caps with six shots on net, one off his single-game high for the season. He had seven shots on net in a Nov. 15 game at Nashville … Brouwer paced the Caps with six hits on the night … Jeff Halpern topped the Caps in the face-off circle, winning seven of eight (88%) of his draws on the night … Jared Cowen led the Sens with 28:22 in ice time on Saturday … Erik Karlsson led the Sens with 24:53 in even-strength ice time … Chris Phillips led the Senators with four blocked shots.