By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 12:39 AM
If there was ever a time for the Washington Capitals to awaken the slumbering power play that dominated the NHL in each of the past two regular seasons, it was late in the third period against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.
After spending the bulk of the frame fending off the hard-working Islanders to keep the game tied, a roughing call on Blake Comeau presented Washington with a prime opportunity. Coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout. Keep things simple and just shoot the puck, he stressed to the unit that had sputtered through the first three games. The strategy worked.
Less than 30 seconds into the man-advantage, Alex Ovechkin's slap shot from the point ricocheted off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and past Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson for the game-winner in a 2-1 Capitals victory. It was the second time the dynamic duo teamed up on the score sheet in Washington's third straight win at Verizon Center.
"We've been struggling a little bit there and it's good to score again on the power play - we're used to doing that," Backstrom said. The tally was also his first goal of the season. "I think it's good for us, for the whole team, to get the second one on the power play. That's good. It will give us a little confidence, maybe."
While it's uncertain if the impeccably timed power-play goal will help the Capitals (3-1) fully snap out of what remains 2-for-17 funk with the man advantage this season - a streak that is part of a larger 3-for-50 run dating back to last spring's first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens - Washington needed something to go its way in order to overcome the Islanders (1-1-1).
Boudreau dubbed New York one of the hardest-working teams the Capitals will face before the game even started. The Islanders lived up to that billing. They struck first when Doug Weight set up Nino Niederreiter in the slot for a shot that beat Michal Neuvirth through the five-hole just 3 minutes 14 seconds into the contest.
The Capitals tallied just five shots in the first period - three from the fourth line and a pair from Mike Green - as Boudreau experimented with line combinations to give Ovechkin and Backstrom "a break from each other." But at the start of the second Backstrom was reunited with Ovechkin and Mike Knuble, while Tomas Fleischmann returned to the second line centering Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin. It didn't take long for the unspoken chemistry between Ovechkin and Backstrom to take control.
After a handful of shifts together, Backstrom picked off a pass by New York's Radek Martinek at center ice and found Ovechkin in the offensive zone along the half-board wall. Ovechkin drilled a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle past a stumbling Roloson to tie the game at 1 with less than two minutes remaining in the second.
"This is our fourth year playing together and we understand each other a lot," said Ovechkin, who tallied his fourth goal in the past three games. "Every time we have the puck, first of all, we see each other and we try to find each other. It's good."
Ovechkin's goal capped a dominant second period for the Capitals, who outshot the Islanders, 15-6, in the frame. At the outset of the third, however, New York turned the tables. The Islanders dominated play and puck possession through the first 10 minutes, forcing Neuvirth to preserve the tie by making several key saves, including a pair of chances by Niederreiter and Frans Nielsen on the doorstep and a breakaway by Matt Moulson.
Neuvirth continued his stellar play this season, stopping all but one of the 24 shots he faced from the Islanders, half of which came in the third period.
"It was tough," said Neuvirth, who has allowed no more than two goals in an outing during Washington's three-game winning streak. "I wasn't facing a lot of shots in the first two periods, I was just trying to be focused. In the third, I think I made a couple of big saves for us."
The play of Neuvirth combined with the Capitals' penalty-killing efforts - the unit went 3 for 3 to remain perfect this season through 15 chances for opponents - allowed Washington to keep the Islanders at bay until they made a mistake in the form of Comeau's penalty. Then all it took, according to Backstrom, was a little luck on the power play.
"I was just standing in front of the net there and [Ovechkin] was shooting at my feet," Backstrom said. "He hit my foot. It was kind of lucky he didn't hit it too hard, otherwise I probably couldn't walk tomorrow. It was a good one."