Unsung Capital Is Right In Tune

Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom moves the puck past Islanders defenseman Andy Sutton (25) as Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and Mike Sillinger look on during the first period of Washington's 2-1 win.
Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom moves the puck past Islanders defenseman Andy Sutton (25) as Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and Mike Sillinger look on during the first period of Washington's 2-1 win. (AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

UNIONDALE, N.Y., Oct. 8 -- Brooks Laich does so many things for the Washington Capitals that don't show up on the score sheet, unglamorous tasks such as killing penalties, blocking shots and using his body as a battering ram.

That's what makes games such as Monday's so memorable for the fourth-line grinder.

On an afternoon when Washington was outplayed early, outshot 31-12 and generally out of sync, Laich showed he can score, too, lifting the Capitals to an inelegant 2-1 victory with a gritty, third-period goal.

Laich's tally, combined with a superb performance from goaltender Olie Kolzig, helped the Capitals match their best start since 2002-03, when they also opened the season with three consecutive victories.

"It's definitely nice to be able to contribute offensively," Laich said. "That's something I think I can do more of this season, show some offensive touch, in addition to playing solid defensively. It's great to get a goal when we needed it today."

After 20 minutes, it appeared Rick DiPietro and the Islanders (2-1-0) would be the club that emerged with the undefeated record. But that changed in the second period, when Viktor Kozlov and Alex Ovechkin connected for another pretty goal, and Kolzig turned back 17 shots.

That set up a tense final frame, which began with the Capitals squandering a 67-second, five-on-three power play, and defenseman Tom Poti making a diving swipe to thwart a breakaway for Islanders winger Trent Hunter. Moments later, Laich did something he hadn't done since Feb. 27.

Capitals center Michael Nylander picked off a weak clearing pass, zipped the puck to defenseman Brian Pothier, who fired a shot on DiPietro. Laich pounced on the rebound, pulling it past the Islanders' goalie, before flipping it into a vacated net at 7 minutes 58 seconds.

Laich let loose an exaggerated fist pump after giving the exhausted Capitals exactly what they needed, exactly when they needed it. They were playing their third game in 66 hours.

"We've done it a few different ways," said Kolzig, who has stopped 53 of 54 shots to open the season. "It's easy to be a front runner, so it was nice to come from behind to win a game."

Kolzig also was quick to praise Laich, who took only one shot in 12:22 of ice time.

"It's good to see a guy like Brooks chip in," he said. "For us to be successful, we need everyone to chip in, not just Ovechkin, Kozlov and Nylander."


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