Eight Is Enough – For the first 20 minutes, it looked like the Washington Capitals might be on their way to matching their longest winless streak of the last 29 years. But after digging a multiple-goal deficit in the first period for the second time in as many nights, the Caps kept their cool. Then they went out and scored a trio of goals early in the second period, riding that offensive outburst to a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.
The rare burst of offense ended Washington’s winless streak at eight (0-6-2).
“Three goals is a massive output for this team in the last 10 games,” noted Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
He’s right, of course. Sunday’s game marked just the second time in the last nine games that the Capitals have scored as many as three goals in a contest, let alone in the first half of a period.
Perreault missed Saturday’s game in Boston because of illness and Fehr, who was slated to be a healthy scratch, stepped in for him at the last minute.
Fehr went from nearly being scratched in Boston to the first line by the end of that game, and he started Sunday’s game on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The right wing made the most of the opportunity, firing a team high seven shots on goal and netting the tying goal in the second minute of the second period.
“It was a crazy couple of days,” says Fehr. “I was happy to be in the lineup [Saturday] night. I was working real hard and I wanted it to carry into this evening.
In Sunday’s game, Fehr played 16:56. That’s the most ice he’s seen this season and his highest ice time total in more than a year, since he skated 17:13 against the Habs in Montreal on Nov. 28, 2009.
“It felt unbelievable to be playing with those guys,” says Fehr. “Everybody is so concerned with where Backstrom and Ovechkin are that it’s easy to get open. With the ability that those guys have, it’s easy to find you.”
Perreault’s net presence led to both of his goals, as he was in the right spot at the right time, something that’s been all too rare for the Capitals of late.
“We just needed one to get us started,” says Fehr. “Perreault did a great job going to the net. When we got that first goal, I think our whole team felt like we were in this one and we got a chance to turn it around.”
The Senators played a sloppy and lethargic game, especially after the first period. The Caps inched their way back into the top spot in the Southeast Division standings with Sunday’s win, but they’re under no illusions that their recent woes are completely in the rear view.
“In the sense that we’ll be able to sleep tonight I think it was a big win,” says Boudreau. “As a coach, just looking at the players’ faces and seeing them happy instead of grinding and everything, it’s a huge win. But in the end, it’s one win out of nine. It’s not like we’re out of the woods.
“I thought we competed really hard tonight, especially after getting down 2-0. They can enjoy it for 10 minutes, and then we’ve got another game on Tuesday. It’s a relief for us, but it’s not like we’re out of the woods.”
That relief poured out onto the ice at game’s end, as the players couldn’t hold back the emotion after going 18 days between victories.
“It felt like we won the championship,” says Perreault. “It’s been so long since we won and it’s just a great feeling.”
Greasy Goals – The Caps scored three goals in a span of 6:21 early in the third, and none of them were pretty. But to a team starved for wins and standings points, they were beautiful.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about,” says Boudreau. “We’re not getting the pretty goals this year. So when you’re not getting those ones, you’ve got to get greasy ones. We got a couple good ones, a couple of what I thought were great goals by going to the net and getting rebounds.”
“They weren’t pretty,” echoes Fehr, “but we were going to the front of the net and we were taking chances. The pretty goals weren’t going in, so we had to change the game plan a bit.”
A Needed Win For Neuvy – Washington’s goaltenders posted a .922 save pct. in the month of October, fifth best in the league. But they slipped below .900 in both November and December, and there have been some games during the just-ended losing streak where the Caps didn’t get opportune saves at opportune times.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth was the NHL’s rookie of the month in October, and he led the league in wins at one point in November. But his win over Ottawa on Sunday was his first in more than a month, since a Nov. 17 win over the Sabres at Verizon Center.
Early in the streak, Boudreau proclaimed a “win and you’re in” philosophy. He has alternated starting netminders for most of this month, but Neuvirth got both starts in a back-to-back situation this weekend. He allowed multiple goals in the first period of both games, but shut the door the rest of the way in both.
“It’s kind of tough going back and forth,” says Neuvirth of the rotation. “Even [Saturday] night, I was feeling good. It’s all about confidence. I was trying to find it and hopefully I found it tonight. I think after we scored the third goal and I made a couple good saves, I started feeling like myself.”
Down Two – Sunday’s comeback win from a two-goal deficit was the Caps’ third of the season. Washington is now 3-11 in games in which it has trailed by two or more goals in 2010-11.
All three of the Capitals’ wins in such games have come on the road. Washington took a 3-2 overtime decision in Nashville on Oct. 16 and a 7-2 victory over the Flames in Calgary on Oct. 30.
Rugged Road – Last season, the Capitals featured the league’s best road record at 24-10-7 and set a single-season franchise standard for most road victories in a season.
Washington actually scored one more goal on the road than it did at home last season, averaging 3.83 goals per game on the road.
Coming into Sunday’s game against the Senators in Ottawa, the Caps were 6-8-1 on the road in 2010-11. They had just 13 road points as compared to 27 at home. Among the 30 NHL clubs, only Toronto, New Jersey and the New York Islanders had fewer road points.
The Capitals came into the game with a total of just 34 road goals, tied for 25th in the league. That’s an average of 2.27 tallies per tilt, or more than a goal and a half less than they averaged last season.
Relief – Defenseman Scott Hannan was finally in a winning locker room for the first time as a member of the Capitals. Obtained in a Nov. 30 trade with Colorado, Hannan watched from the press box when Washington authored its previous win, a 4-1 triumph over the Blues in St. Louis on Dec. 1.
Hannan skated 19:27 (including 3:52 of shorthanded ice time), laid a hit, blocked a shot and was even on the night in the plus/minus department.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears completed a busy weekend with a Sunday home game against the Charlotte Checkers. Hershey took a 6-3 decision from Charlotte to avoid a winless weekend.
After dropping a Friday night road game at Adirondack and a Saturday night home contest against Providence, the Bears grabbed an early 2-0 lead on goals from Brian Willsie (his 12th of the season) and Kyle Greentree (his 11th). Hershey got second-period strikes from Brian Fahey (his third) and Keith Aucoin (his sixth).
For Aucoin, the goal was his 200th in the American Hockey League.
Aucoin added his seventh of the season in the third and also set up Boyd Kane (his 10th) for a power play goal in the final minute of regulation.
With the win, the fourth-place Bears pulled to within three points of third-place Charlotte in the AHL’s East Division standings.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays also finished up a busy weekend with their third game in as many nights. South Carolina hosted the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays won a 3-2 shootout decision for their fourth victory in a row.
Trent Campbell and David de Kastrozza scored for South Carolina and Todd Ford made 32 saves to run his record to 7-4 on the season.
The Stingrays are a game above .500 for the season and tied for fourth place in the South Division and sixth place in the Eastern Conference Standings.
Washington’s win made it a clean sweep Sunday for the organization.
By The Numbers – The Caps were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, and defenseman Tom Poti led the way with 5:35 in shorthanded ice time … Perreault’s power play goal is the second of his NHL career … Mike Green led Caps defensemen with 26:19 in ice time. Backstrom led Washington forwards with 24:36 … Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson led all skaters on both sides with 28:25 … Matt Bradley led the Caps with six hits in just 10:19 of work … Backstrom won 18 of 27 (67%) face-offs.
Wrist shot -