White Knuckler – In what has been a recurring (and somewhat troubling) pattern this season, the Capitals cruised to a 5-2 lead over Atlanta after 40 minutes and then held on for a 5-4 win.
The officiating was dicey. The Caps got no points from Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom and a single assist from Mike Green. Alexander Semin sat this one out. Washington had a goal disallowed, it was victimized for a shorthanded goal, it allowed two power play goals, and it failed to convert on seven power play chances of its own, including a two-man advantage that lasted 1:08. Somehow, all that turned into a recipe for two points.
“It wasn’t a textbook game,” admitted Caps coach Bruce Boudreau afterward. “I think both teams were really sloppy. Both teams got some pretty soft goals. It wasn’t a very well-played hockey game.”
Washington has had little trouble taking leads this season; it has led in each of its nine games, but has lost four of them. It has led in the third period of three of its four losses, but it weathered a late string of penalties and held on for two points in regulation against a divisional foe on Thursday.
The Caps got three goals in a span of 88 seconds midway through the second period to blow the lid off what had been a 2-2 hockey game.
Washington missed several strong scoring chances throughout the night, though the puck was bouncing quite a bit, and Boudreau said the ice was “as bad as I’ve seen any ice.”
Atlanta crawled back into it on a shorthanded goal from Zach Bogosian and a late power play strike from Ilya Kovalchuk. The Caps white-knuckled their way through the final 20 minutes of the game, dodging bullets throughout much of the third. Washington was shorthanded for most of the game’s final three minutes, and was two men short for 15 seconds of that time. Atlanta mustered six of its 26 shots on goal for the night in the final 62 seconds of the game.
“I never felt comfortable once that whole game,” said Boudreau. “I ended up thinking it was going to be 6-5, but I was saying that in the middle of the second period. Because I just saw pucks bouncing and I just saw things going energy-wise, for both teams, it wasn’t where it should be.
“But we’ll take the win.”
The Caps are now 3-0-1 in their last four games.
Secondary Scoring – Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Thrashers, a lack of secondary scoring had been one on a short list of things plaguing the Caps in the early going of 2009-10. Well, no more. Four different Caps netted their first goals of the campaign in Thursday’s 5-4 win at Atlanta.
Eric Fehr got the Caps started with a breakaway goal on his first shift of the night. Alexandre Giroux rekindled some of his magic with Keith Aucoin, converting the latter’s brilliant pass to give the Caps a 2-1 lead in the first. Jeff Schultz scored a fluky goal from well over 100 feet away in the second, and Caps captain Chris Clark notched his first of the campaign less than a minute and a half later. Clark’s goal stood up as the game-winner.
“It’s good because I didn’t think our No. 1 line was very productive,” said Boudreau. “And that was probably our power play’s worst night in the three years that I’ve been here.
“The Steckel line was very good. Giroux and Aucoin and Clarkie get a goal. Boy, you need them sometimes. And tonight, we got ‘em.”
No Young Guns – Tonight’s win was the first this season for Washington in a game in which it got no offensive contributions from its “Young Guns.” Semin did not play, and Ovechkin, Green and Backstrom were held without a goal. The Caps had been 0-1 in games in which the “Young Guns” did not score this season.
Last season, the Caps were 1-9-1 in games in which there were no goals from the Caps’ quartet of young stars. Washington’s only win in such games last season was a 2-1 triumph over Toronto on Dec. 6, 2008. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina supplied the offense in that one.
Big Night For the Big Guy – In addition to his first goal since Jan. 14, Schultz added two assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career. Schultz’s lone goal last season was an empty-netter against Pittsburgh. His last goal that came with a goalie in the net was on Dec. 17, 2007 at Detroit.
Schultz was credited with his first goal of the 2009-10 season on Thursday against Atlanta when he tried to catch Atlanta in a change and hit Mike Knuble with a pass at the far blueline. The puck skipped like a rock on a lake and beat beleaguered goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
The puck may have skimmed off Knuble en route to the cage, but even if it did, it might be the longest goal the Caps' veteran right wing ever scored, too.
No Power Needed – Prior to Thursday, the Caps had lost all four games in which they failed to score a power play goal this season. They are now 1-2-2 in such contests.
Fast Firsts – For the sixth straight game and for the eighth time in nine contests this season, Washington drew first blood and scored the game’s first goal.
First For Varly – Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov notched his first NHL point with an assist on Schultz’s second period goal. Varlamov now has more assists (one) than he has regulation losses (none) in his NHL career.
No Trail – Nine games into the 2009-10 NHL season, the Caps have yet to trail at any point in the first period of a game. Washington has outscored the opposition 13-4 in the first.
Lunch Bucket Laborer – Aucoin skated just 5:39 in his 10 shifts on the night, but he made a brilliant pass to set up Giroux’s goal and won five of seven face-offs on the night. He was given the hard hat presented to the hardest worker after Washington wins.
Biting the Hand – Giroux belonged to the Atlanta organization for the first part of the 2007-08 season. He played for current Thrashers head coach John Anderson at Chicago of the AHL, but never got into a game with Atlanta. On Thursday, he netted his fourth NHL goal against his former organization and his former AHL coach.
Early Strikes – Kovalchuk’s first-period goal against the Caps on Thursday was his sixth goal in the initial frame this season. He scored 43 goals last season, but had just seven in the first period.
Once A Caps Killer – Maxim Afinogenov nicked the Caps for a goal and an assist in his first game against them as a member of the Thrashers. Afinogenov has had a successful history against Washington. Including Thursday’s game, he now has 11 goals and 22 points in 31 career contests against the Caps.
The Kids Are All Right – How Zach Bogosian was not named one of the game’s three stars is beyond us. The Thrashers young blueliner was a force all over the ice against Washington and is clearly a No. 1 defenseman in the making. Bogosian played 5:22 while Atlanta was shorthanded and his 22:36 on the night was second among Thrashers defensemen.
Eighteen-year-old Evander Kane was held off the scoresheet and was minus-1 in 11:22 of work. Kane logged 2:29 in shorthanded ice time, went to the net looks like he’ll be a good one once he fills out a bit.
Hartley in the House – Ex-Thrashers coach Bob Hartley was in attendance at Thrusday night’s game. Hartley led the Thrashers to the only playoff appearance of their existence in 2007 and then was fired six games into the following season when Atlanta dropped all six to start the campaign.
On This Date In NHL History – A pair of Hockey Hall of Famers netted their first NHL goals on this date. Legendary left winger Bobby Hull scored his first goal for the Chicago Blackhawks on this date in 1957, victimizing the Boston Bruins.
And Edmonton defenseman Paul Coffey scored his first NHL goal against Calgary on this date in 1980.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin skated 10:38 in the opening frame, including 5:27 worth of power play ice time … Through two periods, only two Washington skaters (Nicklas Backstrom and Milan Jurcina) were not plus players on the night. Backstrom and Jurcina were both even at that time … After winning one of four first-period draws, Steckel rebounded to win eight of 11 face-offs in the second period.