By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
There are games that simply must be won, no excuses. Last night's meeting with the foundering Philadelphia Flyers was one of them, and the Washington Capitals treated it as such.
Ben Clymer scored 15 seconds in, Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist and goaltender Olie Kolzig made 31 saves as the Capitals overwhelmed the NHL's worst team, 6-2, at Verizon Center.
The victory was the Capitals' third in a row and clinched the club's first season sweep (4-0) of the rival Flyers, who have only 11 wins. Enforcer Donald Brashear also netted his first goal of the season in the rout.
"There's not many of them, but sometimes when you get a team at the end of a road trip and they're not winning very much, it's one of those times when you really have to get the two points," said Capitals captain Chris Clark, who had two assists. "Scoring so quickly was huge. It really deflated them."
Thanks to that early goal and the steady play of Kolzig, who helped kill off a lengthy five-on-three power play in the second period, the Capitals continued their climb back into the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
The next two games present another opportunity for them to make up ground they lost last month. After today's practice, they head to Florida to face the Lightning and Panthers, both of whom are behind them in the standings.
The Flyers, meanwhile, lost their fourth in a row and again were without their captain, Peter Forsberg, who was sidelined with a groin muscle injury. Forsberg's absence, however, was only part of their problem.
Their biggest issue was goaltender Robert Esche, who yielded three weak goals. Afterward, he shouldered the blame.
"Our team played terrific today," said Esche, who made 25 saves. "We were more than capable to win a hockey game. They had a horrific effort from their goalie, and that's all there is to it."
Clymer snapped a routine-looking shot past Esche. The goaltender appeared to snag the puck with his glove, but it managed to slip between his arm and his leg pad and slowly slid across the goal line only moments after the opening faceoff.
Ovechkin, who was named a starter in the All-Star Game last night, scored about six minutes later to make it 2-0. The powerful winger flicked a pass from Dainius Zubrus between Esche and the goal post.
In the second period, the Flyers had the home team on the retreat early. But the Capitals killed off a 1-minute 23-second five-on-three power play, and a few minutes later, the Capitals struck twice in a matter of seconds.
Ovechkin's second goal of the night, on a rebound at 16:45, extended the lead to 3-0 and gave him his first multiple-goal game since Dec. 15, when he recorded a hat trick in a 3-2 victory in Atlanta.
Seventeen seconds after Ovechkin's goal, Brashear made it 4-0. The former Flyer controlled the puck off a faceoff deep in the Philadelphia zone and fired on net. It hit Esche's blocker glove, bounced up in the air, landed on the goalie's back and somehow crossed the goal line.
"It's funny how sometimes you have some great chances and you miss them and next thing you know, you get a lucky bounce like that," said Brashear, who got a loud ovation from the fans. "I guess [the fans] like the style that I play. Physical play has always been a part of hockey, and I'm trying to show the people who are trying to take it away that it's still a part of the game. You can still use it."
Alexander Semin's 22nd goal of the season, from the middle of the faceoff circle, came on the power play at 3:09 of the third period and stretched Washington's edge to 5-0. It was Semin's fifth goal in three games.
Flyers winger Kyle Calder scored at 8:47 on the power play to spoil Kolzig's shutout bid. Calder's second goal of the night came shorthanded at 12:32. Capitals center Brian Sutherby scored from behind the goal line with 1:10 remaining, bouncing a soft shot off of Esche.
Asked about the significance of sweeping the Flyers, Ovechkin said: "I don't look at history. History is history right now. Right now we beat Flyers, and it's history."