By Tarik El-Bashir
Sunday, October 25, 2009
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Facing an opponent saddled with the second-lowest payroll in the NHL and just a single win in its first eight games, there was every reason to believe Alex Ovechkin and the star-laden Washington Capitals would put Saturday night's game away early.
Instead, they had to work overtime.
The Capitals needed a goal from minor league call-up Keith Aucoin in the final minutes of regulation and another goal from Brooks Laich one minute into extra time to beat the New York Islanders, 3-2, and headed home from a two-game road trip with four points.
"We definitely didn't have the start we wanted," defenseman Mike Green said. "But this time we stayed positive. There wasn't any negativity throughout the dressing room and when that's the case, usually you come back and make it a good game."
It was an especially good game for Green, who played angry after a knee-to-knee collision in the second period to score his second goal of the season and set up Laich's winner. On the decisive goal, Green skated the puck end to end, dished a centering pass to Laich, who beat Islanders defenseman Mark Streit to the net, then steered the puck past Dwayne Roloson to clinch Capitals their third straight win in overtime at Nassau Coliseum.
"The first period we were definitely outplayed and outworked and outhustled. It was their third game in four nights, so maybe at the end they just tired a little bit," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But we came on and once Green scored his goal, it lit a fire under him. You could feel it on the bench, that they were going to come back tonight."
Laich's goal completed the Capitals' comeback from a 2-0 deficit that began with Green's one-timer from the top of the circles 6 minutes 2 seconds into the third period. Then, with 6:50 remaining and Washington finally playing with the intensity it had lacked in the opening 30 minutes, Aucoin circled the Islanders' net and banked a puck of Josh Bailey's shin pad to even the score at 2.
"We obviously didn't come out the way we had to," said goaltender José Theodore, who played despite a stiff back and finished with 28 saves. "But credit to them, they came out hard. They outworked us for the first half, but we found a way to win and that's what good teams do. As a goalie, I wanted to make sure I kept it close."
Theodore was at his best in the third period, and might have turned the game with a pair of point-blank saves on Kyle Okposo with 10 minutes remaining.
"I said that's the save that's going to save us," Boudreau said.
While the Capitals earned two points, the win did little to answer questions about the team's ability to put forth a full 60-minute effort or the slumping power play, which has not scored on its last 11 opportunities. They also had their worst night of the season in the faceoff circle, winning only 30 percent of their draws.
Washington's most glaring deficiency, however, was the struggling power play, which not only came up empty, it surrendered a short-handed goal for the second straight game during a forgettable first period.
In addition to being outshot 10-5, on the Capitals' only man advantage of the opening 20 minutes, a sloppy effort led to a three-on-two for the Islanders that Radek Martinek finished off. Martinek took a drop pass from Frans Nielsen, then fired a shot from atop the circles past Theodore.
"It's something we've addressed," Boudreau said. "If you looked at me after the game, I wasn't too happy."
The Capitals' three second-period power plays, which included an 18-second five-on-three, did not fare much better in terms of sustaining pressure in the Islanders' end or creating scoring chances.
But a stirring comeback in the third period that showcased how good the Capitals can be made sure the visitors' locker room was full of smiles afterward.
Boudreau even joked about the power play's struggle after the game.
"If we win the game, they can score a shorty every night," he said. "We had some great chances, we just didn't score."
Capitals notes: Tomas Fleischmann, who is recovering from a blood clot in his leg, was assigned to Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint. The winger was expected to suit up against Binghamton Saturday and Portland on Sunday. . . . Alexander Semin missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury/illness. Boudreau said the winger's condition is improving and that he could play Tuesday.