By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 10:22 PM
It was no different Saturday night at Verizon Center, where Ovechkin scored a pair of memorable goals and the Capitals trampled the New Jersey Devils, 7-2, in a contest that ended with a total of 61 penalty minutes being handed out in the final 4 minutes 17 seconds.
The victory extended Washington's overall winning streak in home openers to nine games and quickly erased the memory of Friday night's listless defeat in Atlanta.
"When Alex scored, it was like the air came out of a balloon," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "The guys finally got a lead in the second period. We were tough on them yesterday. The coaching staff was pretty upset with the way we played" in the 4-2 loss to the Thrashers.
And for a while, Boudreau and his staff continued to fume as the Devils took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. But after Tomas Fleischmann evened the game 1:59 into the second period, it was all Ovechkin and the Capitals from there.
"Everybody played bad [Friday] night," Ovechkin said. "Tonight, we moved our legs and finished out checks. We played better in the neutral zone, defensive zone. And guys like Brads [Matt Bradley], Chimmer [Jason Chimera], Greenie [Mike Green] and [Matt ] Hendricks do unbelievable jobs protecting our guys and protecting themselves."
Ovechkin was referring to the final minutes, which turned ugly as frustration on the short-handed Devils' bench mounted. With Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov in the dressing room with injuries, the rough stuff began with stars Green and Ilya Kovalchuk squaring off at center ice. Two fights later, Devils enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond chased down center Marcus Johansson, looking to lure the rookie into a fight. Letourneau-Leblond earned penalties for instigating, slashing, fighting and a game misconduct. Because the infractions occurred in the final five minutes of the game, Coach John MacLean earns a $10,000 fine and Letourneau-Leblond is subject to an automatic one game suspension.
"He asked me at the faceoff if I wanted to go, and I said, 'No,' " Johansson said of Letourneau-Leblond. "I'm happy the guys stood up for me."
Asked what he was yelling at MacLean between the benches, Boudreau said: "I was just saying, 'What are you doing?' Under five minutes, that's an expensive venture. We're the least fighting major team in the league and we didn't have [enforcer] D.J. King in the lineup. We accepted the challenges because we're a group that accepts challenges."
The bigger challenge for the Capitals on Saturday was putting forth a better all around effort than Friday's lackluster performance in which the players acknowledged they were outworked. And thanks to a timely lift from Ovechkin, that's exactly what they got. Ovechkin, who now has 10 goals and two assists in his first game at home, broke a 2-2 tie at 14:31 of the second period with a highlight-reel tally. The dynamic Russian winger carried the puck toward the boards, then turned Devils defenseman Andy Greene inside out with a strong move to the middle of the ice.
Moments later, Chimera hopped out of the penalty box and beat Brodeur to extend the Capitals' lead. Then Ovechkin put the game out of reach by converting on a penalty shot for the second time in his career (on seven opportunities). Ovechkin, who had been hauled down on a breakaway by New Jersey blue-liner Colin White, took the puck wide, glided to the slot and buried a forehand shot behind Brodeur with 48 seconds remaining in the period. Brodeur, who made 15 saves, was replacedby Johan Hedberg at the start of the third period.
Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr scored the final two goals, John Carlson notched a goal and two assists and Michal Neuvirth made 31 stops to turn the game into a laugher and guarantee that the players could enjoy their day off Sunday.
"It was a pretty big step for us tonight," Ovechkin said.
Capitals notes: The Devils lost Volchenkov to a broken nose with 1:33 remaining in the first period. Volchenkov was struck by a Nicklas Backstrom slap shot. ...
Semyon Varlamov, who is sidelined with a groin muscle strain, appeared to move easily when facing shots during the morning. The goaltender said he felt much better than Friday and hopes to return next week.