By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 12:32 AM
The Washington Capitals, playing with a short bench and without one of their veteran defensemen, turned to a sturdy penalty kill and the efforts of rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth for lengthy stretches against the Ottawa Senators on Monday night.
Rather than their trademark offensive firepower, the Capitals weathered five Senators power plays and benefited from the steadily improving performance of Neuvirth to create a lead. But after the Senators forced overtime and Washington sputtered to find scoring chances in the extra session, the Capitals' main offensive power source didn't fail.
Alex Ovechkin, in an admittedly less than perfect outing, fired a puck between Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire's legs with 31.1 seconds remaining in overtime to seal a 3-2 Capitals win at Verizon Center.
"I was kind of getting ready for a shootout, but when he scored, I was the happiest guy in the building," said Neuvirth, who stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced. "It was a huge goal for us and a huge win. [The Senators] really worked hard. They really wanted to win tonight. It was a big challenge for us. It's a huge two points for us."
Ovechkin's tally concluded a game where the Capitals (2-1) were heavily out-chanced at the start by the motivated Senators (0-2-1), who narrowly avoided being the first team in franchise history to not earn a point in the first three games of the season by sending the game to overtime.
Ottawa peppered Neuvirth with shots from the get-go and made the most of every failed clearing opportunity by the Capitals. Neuvirth showed no ill effects of his third start in four days though, and improved to a .916 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average while making key saves at even strength and on the penalty kill to keep it a close game.
"He keeps getting better every game. That's a good sign for a young goaltender," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought he was good right from the beginning. . . . I thought he felt very comfortable [Monday]. I didn't think anything was going to get by him, but then I didn't think anything was going to get by Leclaire there either."
Neuvirth had a fair amount of help though. Without defenseman Tom Poti, who usually plays around 20 minutes per game but was scratched with a lower-body injury according to Boudreau, Mike Green led the defensive and penalty killing efforts to shut down the Senators snipers. The Capitals also played without right wing Matt Bradley for the final two periods after he left with a lower-body injury.
"Injuries are going to come and go but I know we have guys that can come and jump in and play," said Green, who played a game-high 31 minutes 53 seconds. "Me and [Jeff Schultz] have our agendas and that's to shut down their [No.] 1 line. It was a plan tonight that we get in their faces and make sure they don't have room. They're great skaters and great puck handlers and as long as we stay up on them they're not going to have much and I thought Schultzie did a great job I was just following his lead."
Green and Schultz were a combined plus-3, blocked five shots and played nearly 11 minutes on the penalty kill, which thwarted all five Senators attempts to remain perfect (12 for 12) on the season.
Despite being out-chanced for much of the first period though, the Capitals scored first when Alexander Semin beat Leclaire glove side after Brooks Laich managed to shovel the puck to the crease from a scrum in the opposite corner. The second line trio of Laich, Semin and Tomas Fleischmann has accounted for 10 points through three games.
Ottawa tied the score midway through the second on a shift where the Capitals failed to clear the puck out of their zone and Jarkko Ruutu deflected Matt Carkner's shot from the point past Neuvirth, who was screened on the play.
The Capitals tried to hang on to their one-goal lead through the third when Senators forward Ryan Shannon beat Neuvirth blocker side to tie the score once more at 2-2 with 12:40 left in regulation.