No Need for Backup: Brent Johnson Allows Only a Late Goal as Capitals Top Senators

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

For the second time in two games, Brent Johnson was the best player on the ice for the Washington Capitals. And since his backup didn't arrive until midway through the first period, he didn't really have a choice.

Johnson earned his fourth consecutive victory last night, stopping 32 shots to help the Capitals defeat Dany Heatley and the Ottawa Senators, 5-1, at Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom set up three goals for the surging Capitals, who have won two straight and four of their past five to improve to 12-1-1 at home, the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Johnson, meantime, was named the first star for the second straight game only hours after the Capitals' other goalie, José Theodore, was scratched because of a hip flexor injury. Theodore's absence forced the Capitals to sign a front-office employee to serve as Johnson's backup until Simeon Varlamov, the player considered to be the future of the franchise in goal, arrived from Houston.

"Sometimes when you see the adversity of the goaltending situation, the way it was evolving today, the players dig deeper for a teammate -- for Johnnie," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Even though we gave up 33 shots, I think we were pretty solid."

Johnson has now stopped 111 of 116 shots during his winning streak, and was closing in on his first shutout since 2006 when Ottawa's Jesse Winchester scored with 2 minutes 23 seconds left to play.

"It would have been nice to get that 112th" save, Johnson said. "But if we get the 'W,' that's all that matters."

Johnson's play, though, hasn't been the only good news for the Capitals in recent days. Slowly but surely the NHL's most injury-depleted team is also starting to get healthy. Last night, one game after Alexander Semin (a goal on three shots) and Tom Poti returned from injury, Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov returned and made an immediate impact against the Senators. Green had a goal and a pair of assists, while Fedorov had three assists.

Theodore, meantime, was a late scratch after coming up lame during the morning skate. The team recalled Varlamov, but because he was in Houston with the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears, Varlamov did not arrive until the game had started. Because of that possibility, the Capitals requested permission from the league to sign the team's Web site producer and former Division III goalie, Brett Leonhardt, to an amateur contract so he could take pregame warmups and sit on the bench until Varlamov arrived.

Fans might get a glimpse of the future tonight, if Boudreau decides to give Varlamov, a 2006 first-round draft pick, his first NHL start. Johnson has been playing with a hip injury of his own and said he was very sore after the game.

Fortunately for the Capitals, Johnson's balky hip -- the injury that forced him to miss practice Thursday -- did not trouble him, despite the Senators' best efforts. Three times in the opening 20 minutes, the Senators appeared to make deliberate contact with Johnson, the third bump being initiated by noted agitator Jarkko Ruutu.

"I was wondering if that was part of the plan," Boudreau said.

It didn't matter. Johnson remained focused, turning back all 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes as the Capitals took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on Semin's first goal since Nov. 12. Johnson made sure the score stayed that way by stopping Antoine Vermette on a breakaway midway through the period.

The Capitals put the game away in the second period on goals by Brooks Laich (his first in 11 games) and Ovechkin.

In the third period, another goal by Ovechkin and Green's first since Nov. 19 -- both on the power play -- provided the final margin.

Capitals Notes: Wingers Tomas Fleischmann (leg) and Eric Fehr (shoulder) and defenseman John Erskine (concussion) were out. Left wing Oskar Osala and defenseman Sean Collins were reassigned to Hershey.

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