Defensemen Lead Capitals Past Maple Leafs, 2-1, in NHL

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 7, 2008

TORONTO, Dec. 6 -- The Washington Capitals' weakness last night at Air Canada Center should have been their defense, what with four players having started the season in the minor leagues, including one making his NHL debut.

Instead, though, the patchwork blueline carried the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs that put an end to a four-game road losing streak and gave Coach Bruce Boudreau his first NHL coaching victory in his home town.

"That's what we needed; I was very impressed with our rookie D-corps," Boudreau said. "They were very good."

Defenseman Karl Alzner scored his first NHL goal and helped set up his partner Milan Jurcina for a third-period tally that restored the Capitals' lead and sent them to Carolina with momentum for Sunday's game against the Hurricanes. Goaltender Brent Johnson, meantime, was solid in stopping 19 shots to notch his second straight win.

"I just wanted to get the puck on net," said Alzner, who grew up a Leafs fan and had his father, Gunther, in the crowd watching his son's first game in Canada. "It took me 86 games to get my first goal in juniors. It took me six games in the NHL. So that shows I'm getting a little bit better."

But as the Capitals celebrated a big win, Eric Fehr quietly left the visitors' dressing room, not knowing whether he'll be able to play in Carolina. The right wing suffered a shoulder injury in the second period when he collided with the glass. He did not return to the game and is officially listed as day-to-day.

Fehr's injury is the ninth for the Capitals, whose injury situation continues to worsen. Already without seven players who started the season on the roster, including stars Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin, they lost defenseman Tyler Sloan before the game to a bruised foot, which he suffered blocking a shot Thursday against the New York Islanders.

With Sloan out, the Capitals had to dig deep and recall Sean Collins, who made his NHL debut and became the 11th defenseman used in Washington this season. Collins, who split last season between Hershey and ECHL South Carolina, became the third Capital to make his NHL debut this season.

Of the six Capitals defensemen, four started the season with the Bears. They did Hershey proud against the Leafs, who lost for the eighth time in 10 games. Alzner posted his first two-point performance; Bryan Helmer played 20 minutes and was outstanding on the penalty kill; Sami Lepisto also played 20 minutes and was more than adequate; and Collins got a shot on goal and had the time of his life.

"The jitters went away after the first 20 minutes," Collins said. "It was unbelievable. They showed confidence in me and they played me quite a bit."

Alzner added: "Guys are working really hard. They want to show something. There aren't many times when you have five American League defenseman on one team. They're taking pride."

The turning point of the game came early in the third period when Alex Ovechkin (game-high seven shots) took back-to-back penalties (hooking and holding). Ovechkin was a physical force, finishing with a game-best six hits, one of which has sidelined rookie defenseman Luke Schenn for two weeks. But the reigning most valuable player was also in the penalty box when Nik Antropov tied the game 1-1 with 13 minutes 48 seconds remaining.

But that was as close as the Leafs would come to taking control.

Jurcina scored on a blast from the point exactly one minute later to put the Capitals ahead 2-1.

"When you get offense from Juice and Karl -- Juice hardly ever shoots the puck on net -- then you know things are going your way," Johnson said.

After a scoreless first period in which the Capitals outshot the Leafs 14-6, Alzner opened the scoring at 1:41 of the second period. After a turnover by Toronto's Ian White, Alzner snapped a wrist shot from the point that beat Vesa Toskala (28 saves) under the glove. Toskala was screened by Ovechkin, who skated through the goalie's line of sight.

Moments later, Johnson prevented the Leafs from pulling even on the power play with a brilliant kick save on Jason Blake.

The Capitals appeared to take a two-goal lead at 9:18. But Brooks Laich was ruled to have kicked the puck into the net during a scramble, so Washington took a 1-0 lead into the third period.

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