By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 6, 2010; D01
With an effort that was efficient as it was effective Friday night at Verizon Center, Michal Neuvirth helped the Washington Capitals do something that hadn't been accomplished in nine years in the NHL: a winning streak of 13 consecutive games.
Neuvirth held his weary teammates in the game with 22 saves in the second period, then the league's top-ranked offense delivered the knockout in the opening minutes of the third period when Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera scored 68 seconds apart, breaking open a close game and lifting the Capitals to a 5-2 victory over the revamped Atlanta Thrashers.
"Neuvy played unbelievable today," said Alex Ovechkin, who notched a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to six games and his goal streak to four. "He kept us in the game [and] we use our chances."
The last winning streak longer than 13 games belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 17-game run that is the league record. And, as fate would have it, the Penguins are the Capitals' next opponent.
"I don't know, but I've got to believe that even if they say we're not a big rival of theirs, they want to beat us on Sunday in our building," Boudreau said.
As pleased as Boudreau was about earning another win, he reiterated his concerns about his team's penchant for being out-shot. For the seventh time during the streak, the Capitals yielded more shots than they took, this time by a 45-32 margin. It also marked the third time they surrendered 40 or more shots in a game.
"We're giving up an awful lot of shots lately," Boudreau said. "You give up 40 shots, it's going to be tough to keep [winning] at this rate. We need to get out of our sloppiness, because I think we were pretty sloppy again."
Boudreau contends that the sloppiness has been caused by three factors: the lack of practice because of the compressed schedule, fatigue and the fact that the Capitals are facing everyone's best effort.
"It's difficult to stay at a pace when all the teams are coming at you in waves because they're ones that want to end it," Boudreau said.
Still, the Capitals kept on rolling while the Thrashers ushered in a new, and perhaps slightly more uncertain, era the same way the Ilya Kovalchuk era ended: with another loss, their third straight. Kovalchuk was dealt to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night once it became clear the sides were at an impasse on a contract extension.
The Thrashers, however, did not have the look of a team missing its best player, leading scorer and captain, they managed to take an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Tobias Enstrom, who banged in a rebound off Neuvirth's chest on a broken play at 2:46 that began when Capitals defenseman's Karl Alzner's stick snapped in two while he was shooting the puck at the offensive blue line.
A broken stick also played a big role in the Capitals' first-period goal, scored by Ovechkin at 13:41. After his stick snapped, he raced back to the bench for a new one. Upon returning to the offensive zone, Nicklas Backstrom, who left the game after the second period with flu-like symptoms, teed up a crossing pass that he one-timed from the point off the goal post and in to knot the score, 1-1.
In the second period, Backstrom finished off a dominant shift by snapping a pass from Ovechkin past Ondrej Pavelec to put the Capitals ahead, 2-1. The score remained that way until Semin banged in a pass from Brooks Laich on an odd-man rush 3:52 into the second period.
Before the crowd had settled, Chimera clinched the win with a blast over Pavelec's glove.
While the score sheet will indicate that Neuvirth gave up two goals to the Thrashers. He actually gave up only one. The other goal was scored by Semin, who turned over the puck on a Capitals power play, then, while backchecking, inadvertently kicked Rich Peverley's rebound past Neuvirth.
"That was a bad give away at the blue line," Boudreau said. "You just don't do that. Michal made a great save, and to Semin's credit he knew he made a mistake and he worked really hard to get back."
Neuvirth added: "We couldn't believe what just happened. We just laughed at each other. I just tried to put it behind me and stay focused the rest of the game."
Mike Green provided the final margin with a backhanded empty net goal from deep in the Washington end. With that goal, the Capitals have outscored opponents, 28-6, in third periods during their streak.
Capitals notes: Backstrom missed the third period with his illness. According to Boudreau, he's expected to suit up Sunday. . . . Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has been sidelined since Dec. 7 with groin muscle and knee injuries, could make a rehab start for the minor league Hershey Bears on Saturday. If all goes well, the rookie could rejoin the Capitals next week.