By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009
Mike Green, the Washington Capitals' 23-year-old dynamo on the blueline, already has set one record for scoring by a defenseman. Last night, he joined the company of a Hall of Famer.
Green scored his 16th power-play goal this season in the Capitals' 4-3 win over the Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center to tie Scott Stevens for the most power-play tallies in a season by a Washington defenseman, a record Stevens set in 1984-85.
Green's second-period strike -- the Capitals' third power-play goal of the game -- also moved him past Buffalo's Thomas Vanek into the league lead for goals with the man advantage. Vanek, by the way, is an all-star forward.
"I play with some of the best players in the world, so I've got to give them credit," said Green, who earlier this month broke the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman by scoring in eight straight. "That's cool. It's great. Once I relax and think about [tying Stevens] it's going to be special."
Green put the Capitals ahead 3-2, but they needed a clutch goal by Eric Fehr in the third period and a couple of key stops from rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth to hang on for their fifth victory in the past seven games and head into an important weekend with confidence after Tuesday's third-period collapse against the rival Philadelphia Flyers. Tomorrow, the Capitals travel to Boston (the team they are trying to surpass for the top seed in the Eastern Conference) before returning home to play Florida (the team they must fend off to claim their second straight Southeast Division title).
"We struggled the last couple of games at home and we needed to get back to our winning ways," said Fehr, who has 12 points in his past 13 games (seven goals, five assists). "Now we've got a little bit of momentum going into Boston."
The victory wrapped up a season-long five-game homestand for the Capitals, who went 3-2-0, while last night's sellout tied a franchise record for consecutive sellouts, matching a mark that spanned the end of the 1988-89 season through the start of the 1989-90 season.
Neuvirth, meantime, made 21 saves to become the second 20-year-old prospect to win his first two NHL starts for the Capitals this season. Simeon Varlamov, who is in the minor leagues rehabbing a knee injury, did the same thing in December.
"I think the future is good for the Caps," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "The goaltending looks like it's going to be okay in the future."
Neuvirth's Atlanta counterpart, Kari Lehtonen, was considerably busier at the other end. Lehtonen faced 40 shots.
Less than four minutes into the game, Alexander Semin made a move around Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom at the blueline, then rifled a shot past Lehtonen's glove to put the Capitals ahead 1-0.
As Semin was scoring, the Thrashers' Eric Perrin was whistled for slashing. Twenty-three seconds after Perrin took a seat, Brooks Laich poked a loose puck in the crease of the goal line. Green's shot from the circle had trickled between Lehtonen's pads, and before the goaltender located the puck, Laich had pounced.
The Capitals, however, would give it all back on a pair of miscues. First Alex Ovechkin (one assist) lost his cool after he was hit in the face by a stick (which drew no penalty) and was sent to the box for roughing. About a half-minute later, Ilya Kovalchuk beat Neuvirth on a one-timer to pull the Thrashers to within 2-1.
Then, less than four minutes into the second period, Rich Peverley knotted the score at 2.
But Green's goal -- he fired a slick pass from Nicklas Backstrom off the post and in -- restored Washington's lead, then Fehr's tally at 4 minutes 47 seconds of the third stretched the edge to 4-2. .
Atlanta's Todd White scored a short-handed goal with 1:57 left to play to cut the Capitals' lead to 4-3.
The stories of the night, though, were the Capitals' power play -- it struck three times in a game for the fifth time this season -- and Green, who continued his assault on the record books. Green, who leads all NHL defensemen with 23 goals and 54 points, missed 13 games with a shoulder injury, making his numbers all the more impressive.
"He's a good player," Boudreau said. "That power-play goal was perfect, textbook. Before he's done he's going to break a lot of records."
Capitals Note: Veteran center Michael Nylander and defenseman Staffan Kronwall were the healthy scratches.