By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; D01
DENVER -- For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals jumped out to two-goal first-period lead in another team's arena. This time, however, a total team effort led by Tomas Fleischmann and José Theodore ensured there would be no letdown.
Fleischmann notched his fourth two-goal game of the season, and Theodore made 26 saves in his return to Pepsi Center, where the Capitals crushed the upstart Colorado Avalanche, 6-1, in one of their most complete performances of the year.
"We had a 2-0 lead because of the way things we were doing and we didn't want to change," winger Brooks Laich said. "You're starting to see our team grow and learn from our past mistakes."
But the news was not all good in the visitors' dressing room here. Mike Green, Washington's No. 1 defenseman, missed the third period after absorbing a punishing check from David Koci late in the second. Green's head took the brunt of the blow and afterward, the defenseman sported stitches above his left eye, which was also black and blue.
Koci also left defenseman Shaone Morrisonn hurting, though the nature and extent of his injury was not known. Green said he was "okay," while Boudreau called Morrisonn questionable for Friday's game in Vancouver.
Koci, who received a five-minute penalty for boarding, five minutes for fighting John Erskine and a game misconduct, could face supplementary discipline from the NHL for his hit on Green.
"I hope they throw the book at him," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Koci.
"He couldn't play in the American league. If you're looking to get things out of the game ... If this was any game, he gets on the ice in the first three minutes. He gets into his fight with the [other team's enforcer] and then he sits at the end of the bench and that's it. So what good is he?"
"To me that's just a bush-league hit," Boudreau added.
Green and Morrisonn have two days to heal before facing the Canucks, and the Capitals have 48 hours to savor a big win over the Western Conference's second-best team.
Just like Saturday night's 6-3 loss in Toronto, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
"We looked at it and talked about [how Toronto] might have been a cheap lesson," Boudreau said. "We couldn't let it happen again."
Fleischmann opened the scoring 1 minute 56 seconds into the contest when he fired a rebound off an Eric Fehr shot between Craig Anderson's pads. The assist was Fehr's first point in four games. Minor league callup Kyle Wilson, meantime, celebrated his 25th birthday in style, recording his first NHL point on his first NHL shift. Wilson also had a breakaway about eight minutes in, but Anderson (16 saves) turned him away.
"He could have had a couple of goals or four or five points," Boudreau said of Wilson, who set up Fleischmann's second goal. "It was a great first game, and hopefully he can continue on this road trip."
Mike Knuble then gave the Capitals all they would need late in the first, when he notched his first goal since returning from a broken finger last week. It was the Capitals' NHL-best 43rd first-period tally, and it was set up by a nifty pass from Alex Ovechkin.
Instead of admiring their early success, though, the Capitals buckled down behind a strong defensive effort and the solid goaltending of Theodore, who played two-plus seasons in Colorado before signing with the Capitals in July 2008.
Theodore set the tone with a first-period pad save on Chris Stewart from point-blank range.
"When he made that big save, I knew he was going to have a real good game," Boudreau said. "I'm really happy for him because I know [that] mentally, he struggled the last two games."
Theodore said he sensed his teammates playing hard for him because they knew how badly he wanted to beat his former team.
"I didn't know what to expect coming back," Theodore said. "When we landed yesterday, it was a little bit of sadness, a funny feeling. It was kind of emotional for me when I first came on the ice. Even though I only played here a couple of years, I felt like I played here 10 years."
David Steckel's second goal of the season opened a 3-0 lead 4:02 into the second period. Then Fleischmann netted his second goal of the night -- and 13th in 23 games, tying him with Alexander Semin for second on the team -- to put the Capitals up 4-0. Wilson recorded the assist after picking off an errant pass in the Avalanche zone.
Matt Bradley made it 5-0 on the Capitals' 18th shot of the game. The gritty winger flipped the puck from behind the net off of Anderson's pad for his sixth goal and 11th point -- a total it took him 81 games to reach last season.
But about two minutes after Bradley's goal turned the game into a laugher, things also got ugly. Koci crushed Green, who had his back turned to the play after moving the puck, into the glass behind Washington's net. Green crumpled to the ice, bleeding from his temple area, and stayed down as teammate John Erskine engaged Koci in the corner. The boards at Pepsi Center are comprised of seamless glass, which has significantly less give than the Plexiglass used at many arenas.
"Fifteen feet he saw Green's number -- 52 -- and that didn't stop him one iota from hitting him in the back and going for the head," Boudreau said.
With Green and Morrisonn out, the Capitals played the third period with only four defensemen, and Colorado took advantage. The Avalanche got its only goal on the power play midway through the third period when T.J. Galiardi tapped a loose puck past a sprawled Theodore, ruining his shutout bid.
Nicklas Backstrom tacked on a goal in the final minutes to put an exclamation point on the victory.
"We needed a solid game from everybody to bounce back from a loss in Toronto, and tonight that's what we had -- a solid game," Theodore said.
Capitals Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has been sidelined a week with a strained groin muscle, returned to the ice for the first time since getting hurt. The rookie skated for about 15 minutes in pads but did not face any shots. He said he was encouraged because he did not experience any pain during the session. He said it's too early to put a time frame on his return to the lineup, though. ... Because of Varlamov's injury, it's likely that Michal Neuvirth, the team's other rookie goalie, might get a chance to redeem himself this weekend in Western Canada, but not before getting a few days of practice. "We thought he [thought] he was facing American league shooters on Saturday," Coach Boudreau said, referring to Neuvirth's spotty performance in Toronto. "He was a little behind the eight ball. So we want to get him used to [NHL] shooters."