Hats Off To Semin – Having lost two straight games, having a visiting team in town that played and lost at home last night, and having a rugged road trip (three games, four nights, three time zones) looming ahead this week, there was some urgency for the Capitals to win Saturday night’s home game against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Tomas Fleischmann’s goal at 1:37 of overtime enabled to Caps to come away with a 4-3 win in an entertaining contest in which Alexander Semin accounted for the rest of Washington’s offense with the fourth hat trick of his NHL career.
That aforementioned urgency was not apparent in the first period.
Washington was outshot 13-4 in the first frame, and for the second straight game, it surrendered the game’s first goal on an opposition power play (to Atlanta’s Andrew Ladd) in the final minute of the first session.
Veteran right wing and alternate captain Mike Knuble had some words for his teammates during the first intermission, and Alexander Semin began to take control of the contest early in the second.
“We didn’t have a good first period,” admits goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who earned his fifth win of the season. “But Knubs gave a little speech after the first period. After that I think we were getting better every minute and we just dominated in the third period.”
What did Knuble say?
“He just wasn’t happy with our effort,” says Neuvirth. “We lost two games in a row and we got outshot on home ice I think it was like 13-4 or something. It just can’t happen on home ice.”
After picking off a hard-around from Thrashers goalie Chris Mason in the first minute of the second period, Semin blistered an absolute rocket of a one-timer high into a vacant cage.
“I was just trying to get my stick on the puck,” says Semin, via an interpreter. “And make sure it winds up in the net.”
When the Thrashers’ Evander Kane scored to put his team up by a 2-1 count at 4:33 of the second period, Atlanta held a 21-6 advantage in shots on goal.
The Capitals outshot the Thrashers 38-11 the rest of the way.
New linemate Mathieu Perreault – recalled from AHL Hershey earlier in the day – picked up the lone helpers on Semin’s second and third goals. Perreault was a plus-3 on the night.
“I got my chance to play with two very good players tonight,” says Perreault. “Sasha is so good at making my job easy. I felt pretty good out there. My legs were going and I want to bring this team energy. I am pretty happy.”
“We played with him in the preseason,” says Semin of Perreault. “It looks like we understand each other. We know where each other is and the results paid off tonight.”
Washington outshot the Thrashers 24-5 in the third period and overtime.
Early in the overtime session, Eric Fehr fired a wrist shot that Mason stopped. The rebound came to Fleischmann, who was seemingly tied up by Enstrom in front.
“It was a lucky bounce, I would say,” says Fleischmann. “I just tried to shoot it somehow on the net. But I hit it pretty good I think, so I was lucky.”
Fleischmann logged just 10:02 in ice time on Saturday, and needed his lone overtime shift (eight seconds in duration) to get over the 10-minute mark on the night.
Big Bad John – Atlanta defenseman Dustin Byfuglien earned a charging major and a game misconduct late in the second period when he ran Neuvirth after missing a shot on a semi-breakaway immediately after exiting the penalty box.
Caps defenseman John Erskine came to Neuvirth’s aid, grabbing the 6-foot-5, 265-pound and getting some shots in before the officials pulled him off.
“He’s my defense,” says Neuvirth of Erskine. “He’s a tough guy and a he’s a great teammate. These things can happen, so someone had to take care of it.”
Erskine played in his 331st career NHL game tonight, tops among all Washington defensemen in tonight’s game. He skated 24:44, a single-game career high. Erskine made his presence felt with four hits and five blocked shots.
Varly Out, Again – Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov played the first half of the Caps’ first pre-season game on Sept. 22 at Columbus. Days later, he was a late scratch from a scheduled pre-season start.
Varlamov opened the season on injured reserve, and Dany Sabourin made the opening night roster as a backup to Neuvirth. Varlamov returned to active duty – replacing Sabourin as Neuvirth’s backup -- last Saturday against the Predators in Nashville.
After 26 days of game inactivity,Varlamov got his first action of the season in relief of Neuvirth on Tuesday and got his first start of the season on Thursday against the Bruins.
After 103-plus minutes of game action, Varlamov is ailing again. Sabourin was recalled from Hershey to serve as Neuvirth’s backup for tonight’s game against Atlanta. The Caps have not confirmed whether Varlamov is on injured reserve again or whether Sabourin is up on an emergency basis.
More Medical Stuff – Center Marcus Johansson has a hip flexor injury and did not play against the Thrashers. Boudreau says he expects Johansson to be ready when Washington visits Carolina on Wednesday.
Defenseman Tom Poti played both of the games against the Bruins earlier in the week, but did not suit up for tonight’s game against Atlanta. According to Caps GM George McPhee, Poti is “day-to-day.” Boudreau said after the game that Poti was “sore;” his prior injury this season was a lower body ailment.
Right wing Matt Bradley missed his fifth straight game with a lower body injury. Center Boyd Gordon, according to Boudreau, is “healthy” but “resting.” Tonight’s game marks the first win for Washington this season in a game in which Gordon was not in the lineup.
Defenseman Mike Green returned to action for the first time since Oct. 13. He skated 5:39, all of it on the power play.
Owning Overtime – Washington is now 3-0 in overtime games this season with wins over the new York Islanders, Nashville and Atlanta.
Not Up In Here – With Saturday night’s win, Washington extended its home-ice winning streak over the Thrashers to eight consecutive games. Atlanta’s last win at Verizon Center came on Feb. 2, 2008.
New Caps Killer – Sophomore Thrashers left wing Evander Kane scored a pair of goals for the Thrashers, including a brilliant deflection of a Toby Enstrom point shot in the final minute of regulation that sent the game to overtime and earned Atlanta a point.
Kane has scored a pair of goals in each of the first two meetings between the two teams tonight. He has four of the Thrashers’ seven goals against Washington this season.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Adirondack Phantoms at Giant Center on Saturday. The Bears skated off with a 5-1 win. Goaltender Braden Holtby won his third straight start for Hershey.
Brian Willsie got the Bears started with a power play goal in the first period. Kyle Greentree added another extra-man strike in the final minute of the first to increase the Hershey lead to 2-0.
Ashton Rome and Steve Pinizzotto scored less than two minutes apart early in the second to blow it open for the Bears, and Rome added a second strike in the third period. Holtby’s shutout spell was broken on an Adirondack goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Bears blueliners Sean Collins, Lawrence Nycholat and Sheldon Souray each had two assists. Collins finished at plus-3 and Souray at plus-2 on the night. Rome, Souray and Trevor Bruess all picked up fighting majors for Hershey.
Hershey hosts Adirondack again on Sunday at 5 p.m.
By The Numbers – The Caps outhit the Thrashers 29-15 on the night. Alex Ovechkin led the way for Washington with nine hits … After just four shots on goal in the first period, the Caps had 16 in the second, 18 in the third and six in just 1:37 worth of overtime … John Carlson led the Caps with 26:32 in ice time, a single-game career high for him … Semin paced the Caps with seven shots on goal … David Steckel won 13 of 16 (81%) of his face-offs on the night … Brooks Laich won all five of the face-offs he took in Saturday’s game … Ex-Caps draftee Johnny Oduya led the Thrashers with 26:17 in ice time … The Caps had a single-game season high 44 shots on goal.
Wrist shot -