“I would have traded 199 of them for that one today,” said Boudreau, who reached the mark in 326 games — faster than any coach in NHL history. “Because when you don’t win for any length of time it gets tougher, so it came at a good time.”
The mood in the dressing room after the victory was light and players booed when reporters walked in, prompting the victory music, DJ Pauly D’s “Beat Dat Beat,” to be turned off. The Capitals remained businesslike in the moments afterward, though, knowing that they must roll this positive result into other games to fully shake the doldrums away.
For a night, the Capitals rediscovered their offense — scoring more than a single goal for the first time in four games and more than three for the first time in eight outings as John Carlson, Cody Eakin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich all got on the scoreboard.
The catharsis came without Semin, who was a healthy scratch for the first time since he was a rookie in the 2003-04 season. One of the highest paid players on the roster at $6.7 million, Semin has just four goals and nine points but leads the team in penalty minutes (28) and minors (14). He has the second most minors in the league.
“He’s taken penalties seven games in a row. At some point you have to be accountable for your errors,” Boudreau said. “I don’t like doing those things to people that are that talented, but everybody’s got to know that everybody’s accountable. So that was a tough decision, but it was a decision that I thought that had to be made for the group.”
Added Eakin: “Yeah I think it’s a message. You know it could be you at any point. You’ve got to fight for the spot you want to earn and the position you want to play.”
Washington’s offense wasn’t in gear from the start, though. Phoenix went up 1-0 less than five minutes in when Radim Vrbata picked off a pass by Carlson and scored on a short-handed breakaway. But the Capitals drew on their defensive effort, which limited the Coyotes to five shots on goal in the first period.
In the final minute of play of the opening period, Matt Hendricks sought an extra boost of energy for his teammates and fought Kyle Chipchura. Both men went to the dressing rooms bloodied, but as he walked off Hendricks was yelling at the Washington bench to fire up his teammates. The Capitals would later credit the gritty forward with adding to their confidence in the contest.
“We’ve got a lot of leaders in this room, a lot of guys say the right things,” said Hendricks, who finished with 10:26 of ice time. “It’s a matter of getting everyone on the right page and doing the right things. You can talk about things as much as you want, but till we go out and execute we’re not going to get the results.”
The Capitals couldn’t seem to catch a break, though. With 7:34 gone in the second, Phoenix’s Lauri Korpikoski scored on a penalty shot to go up 2-0.
Boos started to filter through the arena but the Capitals quieted them by finally getting on the scoreboard. A shot by Carlson deflected off the stick of Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and past goaltender Jason LaBarbera (27 saves) cutting the deficit to one 53 seconds after the penalty shot goal. Eakin then scored his second career NHL goal 11:36 into the second to even things up at 2 on another redirection. The rookie forward’s shot ricocheted off the stick of Keith Yandle and into the net and the sellout crowd at Verizon Center erupted in noise.
At the start of the third, the Capitals took the lead at 3-2 when Nicklas Backstrom chipped the puck over LaBarbera’s shoulder from tight in around the net. Laich added some insurance 7:06 into the contest with a blast on the power play that made it 4-2, and snapped a lengthy stretch of futility — 0 for 28 — on the man-advantage. Laich’s tally stood up as the game winner as Korpikoski recorded his second of the night for the final margin.
“I think that there’s a little bit of sarcastic energy in the room. Obviously this is a huge win for us but it’s a little bit of sarcasm from everyone — really overjoyed,” Carlson explained. “We know that tomorrow we’ve got to get back to work and continue what we’re doing because as we’ve seen if we let off the gas pedal, teams are just too good to squeak by anymore.”
Capitals note: Mike Green missed a fifth consecutive game with a strained right groin muscle.