By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009
ATLANTA -- The Washington Capitals needed a lift on offense with Alexander Semin sidelined, and they got it from the most unlikely of sources Thursday night.
Low-scoring defenseman Jeff Schultz notched three points at Philips Arena, including a goal from 150 feet out, and three others scored their first goals of the season to lead the Capitals to a sloppy 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
Washington chased previously hot goaltender Ondrej Pavelec from the net with three goals on four shots, all in the span of 1 minutes 28 seconds. But, as it turned out, the outburst almost wasn't enough.
The Thrashers, who had gotten off to a surprising 4-1-1 start, struck twice in the third period, once short-handed and the other by Ilya Kovalchuk on a six-on-four power play with 39 seconds to make the penalty-prone Capitals sweat out the waning moments of their third straight win.
"It wasn't a textbook game, I'll tell you," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought both teams were really sloppy. Both teams got some pretty soft goals, and it wasn't a very well played hockey game. I never felt comfortable once that whole game."
Schultz, whose three points were a career high, wasn't Washington's only surprise scorer. Eric Fehr, minor league call-up Alexandre Giroux and captain Chris Clark each notched their first goals of the season. Meantime, goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 22 stops but yielded two soft goals.
"It's funny, he can make a great save one second and then let a softy in the next," Boudreau said. "But I think that comes with experience. But the wins are the things that count."
Varlamov, who is 4-0-0 this season and still has yet to suffer a regulation loss, was credited with his first career assist on what has to be the flukiest goal of the season. Schultz sent a pass from deep inside the Washington zone up the middle of the ice that ricocheted off a skate, then skipped oddly off the ice before eluding Pavelec, who entered the game with a 2.37 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
"I was just trying to move the puck up the ice and go for a change," Schultz said. "I think it hit Mike Knuble's stick and that's how it knuckle balled up there. But, hey, I'll take it. I'm not going to give that one away."
After Schultz's long shot goal, Matt Bradley scored his third goal of the season on a rebound off of a Schultz shot. Then, just 14 seconds after that, Clark chipped a fortuitous bounce off the end boards past Pavelec to put the Capitals ahead 5-2.
But a disorganized power play and the Capitals' inability to stay out of the penalty box in the clutch -- they were whistled for four minor infractions in the final 10:23 -- allowed the Thrashers to make a game of it.
In addition to surrendering a short-handed goal, Alex Ovechkin and the power play went 0 for 7, including coming up empty on a lengthy five-on-three. In fact, Boudreau called the power play's performance the worst he's seen in his tenure behind Washington's bench.
Without Semin and Boyd Gordon (sore back) out, Boudreau was forced to juggle his lines. One of the changes was to bump Fehr up to the second line to replace Semin.
Fehr made the most of the opportunity, opening the scoring with his first goal of the season on a breakaway created by a stretch pass from Schultz, whose two assists were both primary.
"I just wanted to go out there and prove I could play on an offensive line, and I think I had a pretty decent game," Fehr said.
The Thrashers, however, came right back on a goal by Maxim Afinogenov, who collected a loose puck on a faceoff deep in Washington's end and deposited it backhanded between Varlamov's pads.
Giroux and Keith Aucoin -- both of whom were called up earlier in the day due to injuries -- combined on the Caps' second goal. Aucoin made a steal in the neutral zone and sent it to Giroux, who caught Pavelec moving side to side.
But all the secondary scoring almost wasn't enough. Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian beat Varlamov with a short-handed, ordinary-looking wrist shot at 4:51 of the third period and then Kovalchuk blasted a one-timer in the final minute to make it 5-4.
Varlamov had to make saves on Kovalchuk, Afinogenov and Tobias Enstrom in the last 39 seconds to seal the win.
"It's not easy for us right now," Knuble said. "Something is always going to happen. But, hey, it's a win."