“It feels good,” Hunter said of the first win. “It’s one of those things that you want to get over with right away, hopefully the first game, but it ended up being the third. It’s one of those things you want to get under your belt and move on.”
Against Ottawa, the Capitals’ style of play under Hunter took another step forward as the players started to look comfortable and confident with the new system.
Their transition game was cleaner and more fluid, they limited the Senators largely to shots from the outside and didn’t give up many odd-man rushes. And for the first time in the past three games, the Capitals’ offense dominated play for prolonged stretches. For Washington, to see the progress result in a victory is a confidence-builder.
“It takes a little bit. You’re drilled from training camp. Me and the guys who have been here a couple years, you’re drilled a certain way for a long time,” veteran Mike Knuble said. “You’re talking about changing a lot of habits in a couple days. We practice, and we’re not robots. It takes a couple times to get the feel of what you’re supposed to be doing and what everybody’s supposed to be doing on the ice.”
Washington (13-11-1) jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1 minute 58 seconds into the contest when Nicklas Backstrom skated into the offensive zone, boxed in by four Senators, and took a wrist shot in the slot that beat Craig Anderson (32 saves). It was Backstrom’s ninth goal of the season and marked his 27th point, a team high.
Washington wouldn’t be able to give itself a larger cushion before a point shot by Senators blue-liner Erik Karlsson made it 1-1 only 58 seconds into the second. Karlsson’s shot may have been redirected on its way to the net where it fooled Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 32 saves in a strong outing for his first win since Nov. 4 at Carolina.
From the moment the Senators tied the score, though, the second period was Washington’s. Strong shifts by every line, particularly the third and first, yielded scoring chances in succession.
“We wanted to limit their shots and get more shots ourselves. And our line, especially, we had a couple hornets’ nests around their net where we had second and third whacks at it,” said Laich, who finished with a game-high six shots on goal in 20:45 of ice time. “The first couple games we kept getting one shot, but we weren’t getting to the rebounds and creating those other opportunities. So we did little bit more of that tonight and we got rewarded for it and get Huntsy his first win.”