By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009
With each passing day, Alex Ovechkin gets closer to rejoining the Washington Capitals' lineup. His teammates, however, seem to be doing just fine without him at the moment.
Alexander Semin scored twice in regulation and again in penalty shots, and Chris Clark netted the shootout winner to lift the Capitals to a third straight win, 5-4, over the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
Clark's wrist shot past Dwayne Roloson ended an epic, 11-round shootout and provided a fitting conclusion to a game that began with the Capitals trailing, 3-1, before the seven-minute mark of the first period and starting goaltender José Theodore heading to the bench.
"Even when we were down, I never thought that we were out of it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was too early. There were 50 minutes left in the game, we were down 3-1, but I thought we had a good chance of coming back."
The Capitals did just that, scoring three straight and taking a 4-3 lead late in the second period on a fluky goal by Eric Fehr. And for the first 15 minutes of the third period, they did a respectable job of protecting that lead.
But the Capitals' ongoing discipline problem cost them. David Steckel was sent off with 4 minutes 10 seconds remaining for holding. Washington snuffed out the penalty, but it depleted the penalty-kill unit, of which Steckel is a key part. Then, just as Steckel came out of the penalty box, Milan Jurcina was sent off for boarding.
The Islanders' Trent Hunter took full advantage, rifling a shot from the middle of the circle off the post and over Semyon Varlamov's glove to tie the game at 4 with 2:08 left to play.
"We can't stand prosperity," Boudreau said. "We go penalty-less for two periods, then we take three in the third."
After a scoreless overtime, Varlamov yielded a goal on the Islanders' first attempt but no others, with the highlight coming when he stopped Hunter with his pads, then used his arms to grab the crossbar to stop from sliding into the goal with the puck.
Semin and Clark scored at the other end to clinch the win. For Semin, his performance was about redemption after he had failed to score in his previous six games and gave away a puck in the first period that led to a goal.
"No game is without mistake," said Semin, who was credited with 11 shots on goal. "I'm glad I was more responsible as the game went on and that I scored a couple of goals."
Boudreau said: "He wanted to play. And when he wants to play, he could have had six. He's scary good when he's motivated. There's the good and the bad -- the goal, the giveaway, the miss."
Since Ovechkin went down with a strain near his left shoulder, it's been an offense by committee in Washington. Ten players have scored in the four games without Ovechkin, who could return for the weekend.
"Good teams have guys pick it up," Boudreau said. "But by no means do we not miss him."
Although Ovechkin didn't play, he had a good view from the suite level as the NHL's most thrilling and frustrating team did its thing in front of another capacity crowd.
Semin tied the franchise record for fastest goal to start a game (at eight seconds), rifling a shot past Roloson after Brendan Morrison stole the puck from an Islanders defenseman on the opening faceoff. But the lead was short-lived. Only 54 seconds later Matt Moulson collected a long rebound and snapped a shot -- the Islanders' first of the game -- past Theodore to tie the score, 1-1.
Semin missed a wide-open net moments later, then Mark Streit scored on a shot from the blue line to put the Islanders ahead, 2-1. On its next shot, New York took a 3-1 lead after Sean Bergenheim converted a breakaway created when Semin coughed up the puck .
Varlamov (25 saves) replaced Theodore (two saves) after Bergenheim's goal.
"He looked a little rattled, and a little down," Boudreau said. "Theo has played so well for us, and he had a rough outing."
The Capitals responded moments later on Tomas Fleischmann's goal, set up by Nicklas Backstrom, who made a strong move to the net and lost the puck to straight to his winger. Fleischmann's sixth goal in seven games cut the Capitals' deficit to 3-2.
The Capitals roared back in the second period. Semin notched his third two-goal game of the season on the power play, snapping a pass from Mike Green past Roloson to tie the game at 3 early. Later, Fehr backhanded the puck with his back facing the goal off defenseman Jack Hillen.
Capitals note: General Manager George McPhee said after the game that he could not confirm a report by French television network RDS suggesting that center Michael Nylander had agreed to go on loan to Dynamo Minsk of Eastern Europe's Kontinental Hockey League.