Offense Connects For Caps

Sports Columnist Mike Wise goes behind his recent piece from the Capitals' key win over the Red Wings at Verizon Center
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 2, 2009

Mike Green glanced up ice in the second period of the Washington Capitals' game against the Ottawa Senators yesterday afternoon to see Alexander Semin breaking down the right wing boards. With two Senators between him and Semin, Green did the only thing he could to get the puck to his teammate -- send it above everyone's head.

It was hockey's version of a Hail Mary pass, Green joked afterward, but Semin retrieved the highlight-reel assist and carried it in for a breakaway goal that proved to be the game winner in Washington's 7-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

"I see Tom Poti do it all the time, so I took it out of his book I guess," Green said. "I couldn't make a pass through those guys, so the only way to go was over them."

Green recorded a season-high four points, three assists and a goal, to become the points (40) and goal-scoring leader (15) among NHL defensemen. Alex Ovechkin recorded his seventh-career hat trick en route to Washington's second win in as many days at Verizon Center.

The win gave the Capitals 68 points on the season, as they pulled ahead of the New Jersey Devils -- Washington's next opponent -- for second place in the Eastern Conference standings.

But while the Capitals ratcheted up their offense -- Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom each tallied three points as well -- it was the Semin-Green connection that proved the most spectacular as Semin, who has recently been criticized for taking bad penalties, snapped a four-game goal drought with a mesmerizing backhander over goaltender Alex Auld's shoulder.

"I talked to [Semin] on the bench," Ovechkin said. "I said sometimes the puck doesn't go in, but that it's coming. It's coming. Then the next shift he has a breakaway and scores a beautiful goal. I'm glad for him. . . . He plays great for us. Sometimes he has mistakes. Everybody have mistakes."

The Capitals have made a bad habit this season of coming out sluggishly following big games. So Coach Bruce Boudreau warned his team that it couldn't let the emotional high of defeating defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit 24 hours earlier cloud its focus against Ottawa, which sits 24 spots behind Washington in the NHL standings.

Yet despite a fast start, the Capitals allowed the first goal for the fifth time in the past seven games when Daniel Alfredsson's shot from the top of the face-off circle ricocheted off Shaone Morrisonn's shin pad and past Brent Johnson, who made 34 saves in his first start since Jan. 10.

Washington buzzed in the Ottawa zone, though, and went ahead by scoring two goals on two shots on a pair of power plays midway through the first period. With Ottawa's Dany Heatley in the penalty box, Backstrom won the ensuing faceoff and kicked the puck back to Green, who launched a blistering slap shot past a screened Brian Elliott at 9 minutes 43 seconds to tie the game at 1. Seventy-one seconds later and just four seconds into another Capitals power play, Ovechkin beat Elliott for his first goal of the day.

Washington's pair of goals with the man-advantage marked the first time in 10 games that the Senators, who entered the matchup with the seventh-best penalty killing unit in the NHL at 83.5 percent, allowed more than one power-play goal.

"Bruce made it clear that we needed to come out strong," Green said. "We can't let up at all just because we did have such a good game the night before. Usually we start off slow the next day. It was a challenge for us to get that first period."

Eric Fehr continued the onslaught with a goal 46 seconds into the second period before Ovechkin skated down the wing toward Ottawa's Filip Kuba, then snapped a shot between the 6-foot-4 defenseman's skates that beat Elliott (12 saves) to make the score 4-1 and chase the Senators goalie from the game.

The NHL's leading scorer recorded his hat trick and 36th goal of the season on the mirror image of that play, with a shot that sailed through Kuba's legs, this time against Auld (11 saves) to give Washington a 6-2 lead. Ottawa got goals from Antoine Vermette and Heatley in the third period.

"You can tell that [Ovechkin's] shot was on today," Boudreau said. "The second goal I don't think the poor goalie saw it. He was just on. . . . He could have had more. You can tell early when that shot's going -- when it's not fluttering, when it's not going all over the place. I think it was about this time last year that he started to get into a good groove. Hopefully he's on the verge of doing the same thing."

Capitals Notes: Chris Clark was a healthy scratch for the fourth time in seven games. . . . David Steckel was out with a lower body injury he suffered during Saturday's game against Detroit.

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