Sleepers Awake – It wasn’t the most scintillating game any of the sellout crowd at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon has ever seen, and it wasn’t the best 60 minutes the Washington Capitals have turned in this season. But the Caps’ 3-1 Sunday afternoon win was a big one.
Once again, the Caps gave up the game’s first goal and dug an early hole for themselves. The recently dormant Capitals attack began to awaken from its slumber late in the second period when a series of line changes led to some consistent shifts and time in the attack zone.
Washington headed into the final frame still down 1-0, but the offense finally gave some support to goaltender Michal Neuvirth in the third when it struck for the game-tying and game-winning tallies in a span of just 45 seconds.
Seconds later, the Sens’ Milan Michalek was whistled for an ill-timed cross-checking minor after he pitched Caps defenseman Karl Alzner awkwardly into the wall in the Washington end.
The beleaguered Capitals power play unit needed all of two seconds to get the go-ahead goal.
Nicklas Backstrom cleanly won the offensive zone draw back to blueliner John Carlson and the rookie blueliner hammered home the first power play goal of his NHL career to put the Capitals on top.
Laich’s goal awakened the Washington attack and sparked the team to a three-goal outburst – including Jason Chimera’s insurance tally – in a span of just 6:16.
“It was a beautiful goal by [Laich] and it gave us a little bit of jump in our step,” says Carlson. “It brought back those good memories that we had when we were scoring goals. It helped us out, obviously.”
The Caps got two much-needed points, a few hard-earned goals and its first power-play marker in four games.
“I just [told them] I hope they realize how important this period is to our season,” says Boudreau when asked about his message to his team during the second intermission. “It’s vital mentally to get a couple goals for themselves. Ottawa was tremendous for two periods not allowing hardly anything. They played really good.”
Ottawa is now 1-7-1 in its last nine games.
“So many of our losses that we’ve played well,” says Senators coach Cory Clouston. “We just can’t score on our chances. One turnover they put in the back of our net. Next thing you know we’re shorthanded, and they capitalize on that opportunity, too.”
With the win, Washington climbs back into a virtual tie for the top spot in the Southeast Division with idle Tampa Bay. Both teams have 57 points in 46 games, but the Lightning has one more victory than the Capitals.
Long Time Coming – For each of Washington’s three goal scorers, Sunday’s goal was his first in a double-digit total of games.
Laich’s goal was his first in 13 games, since a Dec. 15 tally against Anaheim. Carlson’s goal was his first in 10 games, since a Dec. 21 strike against New Jersey. Chimera’s goal was also his first in 10 games; his previous tally also came on Dec. 21 against the Devils.
Draw Men – Washington won 43 of 62 (69%) draws on the day and had six players with winning percentages of 64% or better in the circle. Boyd Gordon was a perfect 8-for-8 (100%), Jay Beagle won both of his two draws (100%), Laich won three of four (75%), David Steckel won six of nine (67%), Backstrom won 13 of 19 (68%) and Mathieu Perreault won seven of 11 (64%).
“I think our face-off guys were great today,” says Carlson. It adds so much puck possession to the team, and it puts the pressure on them to take the puck from us every time we win a face-off.”
Target Practice – Both teams had more attempted shots go awry than on goal in Sunday’s game. Ottawa finished with 23 shots on goal, but it failed to get another 30 shot bids on net (15 were blocked, 15 missed the net).
Washington had 26 shots on goal, but had another 34 tries that didn’t go on net. The Caps had 21 shot tries blocked and 13 that missed altogether.
Opening Eyes – Caps center Marcus Johansson skated 22:16 on the night, marking a single-game career high in ice time for the second consecutive night.
Johansson started the game on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom and finished the night with Ovechkin and Laich.
“When he gets the puck more and he uses his speed through the neutral zone,” says Boudreau of Johansson, “he’s so much better. So it was something that I thought was a good time to change.”
In recent games, Johansson has clearly been among the Caps’ top six forwards in both ice time and performance.
“Just another solid game,” says the Caps bench boss of his rookie center’s performance. “He was good. He’s getting better and better each night.”
Owning Ottawa – The Caps have won all three games against the Senators this season. They’ll have a chance to author a perfect season against Ottawa when the two teams meet for the fourth and final time in 2010-11 a Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on March 25.
Washington has won all the season meetings between the two clubs in three previous seasons: 1992-93, 1995-96 and 2007-08.
Down On The Farm – While the Caps were taking care of the Ottawa Senators on Sunday afternoon, Washington’s AHL farm team was facing Ottawa’s AHL affiliate. The Hershey Bears concluded a busy weekend with a Sunday afternoon visit to Binghamton where they faced the Baby Sens.
Hershey came up on the short end of a 2-1 decision.
Bears goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced, but only Boyd Kane (his 11th of the season) was able to light the lamp for Hershey.
Binghamton’s win enables the fifth-place Sens to pull within three points of fourth-place Hershey in the AHL’s East Division standings.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays suffered a 3-1 home ice loss to the Kalamazoo Wings on Sunday. The Stingrays travel to Gwinnett for a Monday matinee on Martin Luther King Day.
By The Numbers – Backstrom’s assist was his 30th of the season … Mike Green’s 24:25 was tops among all skaters from both sides … Green and Ottawa’s Nick Foligno had five hits each, tops in the game … Karl Alzner notched his fifth assist of the season, matching a single-season career high … Backstrom, Alzner, Green and Schultz tied for the team lead with three blocked shots each … Filip Kuba led the Sens with five blocked shots … Schultz logged 21:17 for the game, all of it at even strength.
Wrist shot -