Capitals win in Ovechkin's debut as team captain

Alex Ovechkin is named the Capitals' new team captain, and Washington responds at home by ending its three-game losing streak with a victory over Montreal.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Washington Capitals unveiled Alex Ovechkin as their captain during warmups. Then his teammates helped usher in the new era by beating the Montreal Canadiens, 4-2, at Verizon Center.

"It was a proud moment for him putting that 'C' on," defenseman Tom Poti said. "It was great for us in the room to see that. It's well deserved and well earned and we're excited for him."

It showed.

Alexander Semin scored two goals, Tomas Fleischmann starred in his NHL debut as a center and Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves as the Capitals snapped an unsightly three-game losing streak on Ovechkin's special night.

But before they could celebrate, they had to survive some tense moments later while facing the league's top power-play unit.

With Mike Knuble in the penalty box for holding, Benoit Pouliot redirected a pass from Marc-Andre Bergeron to cut the Canadiens' deficit to 3-2 with 8 minutes 50 seconds to play.

About two minutes later, Knuble was back in the box for slashing. This time, however, the Capitals' penalty killers snuffed out the advantage.

"I thought he played a really good game, " Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Fleischmann, who centered a line with Brooks Laich and Semin. "His positioning was really good for a guy that hadn't played center."

Knuble, meantime, was just happy he wasn't the goat on a night when he very well could have been.

"I was praying hard there in the box," he said. "Those are the things that when you lose three in row that come back and bite you. I'm lucky the guys bailed me out. You just want to dig a hole in the penalty box and disappear."

After the Capitals killed off the penalty, Semin clinched the win with his second goal of the night with 2:02 remaining when he rifled a wrist shot over Carey Price's glove hand. The play was set up by Fleischmann, a winger who shifted to center for the first time since juniors and finished a goal and two assists.

The Capitals' 43 shots were one shy of a season high and marked the eighth time this season they've recorded 40 or more. They are 7-0-1 when taking 40 or more shots.

Washington showed its determination from the outset. After slow starts in each of their previous three games -- the Capitals had been outshot 35-11 in first period in the losses to Carolina, San Jose and Los Angeles -- they put an end to that troubling trend against the Canadiens. Although the period ended scoreless, they outshot Montreal 11-3 in the opening 20 minutes. Price managed managed to get just enough of his glove on a Mike Green wrist shot, preventing the Capitals from taking the lead.

But Price couldn't only bottle them up for so long.

"They have a lot of different options," Price said. "Ovie is not the only player who can put the puck in the net."

Which the Capitals showed in a pivotal second period, when they seized control behind goals from Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and Semin. Fehr and Semin's strikes came 36 seconds apart.

Fleischmann, who was playing center for the first time since juniors, intercepted a pass by Andrei Markov along the wall, made a strong move to the middle of the circle and then threaded a low shot through traffic past Price. Markov's stick broke on the errant pass (perhaps with an assist from a Knuble slash) and left the defenseman scrambling to stop Fleischmann.

"Probably the first five minutes," Fleischmann said of the adjustment. "After that, I just got used to it and skated around. It went pretty good."

Fleischmann, though, struck again moments later -- but for the wrong team. After Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges picked off John Erskine's clearing attempt, he fired a shot from the point. The puck hit the shaft of Fleischmann's stick and eluded Neuvirth to make it 1-1.

But one game after being scratched for repeated lapses on defense, Fehr restored the Capitals' lead with a fluky goal late in the period. The big winger flipped a backhanded cross ice pass that was intended for Fleichmann. But the puck deflected past Price off the skate of Montreal defenseman Hal Gill.

Only 45 seconds later, Semin extended the Capitals' lead to 3-1 with a low shot that beat Price on the blocker side.

As big as the win was, the night will be remember as the night the Capitals became Ovechkin's team, even if he was held without a point.

"I know [the players] were really happy when I told them this morning," Boudreau said. "This doesn't happen to often but the group got up and cheered."

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