By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 12:26 AM
RALEIGH, N.C. - Nicklas Backstrom acknowledged Wednesday morning that recently things haven't clicked for him and Alex Ovechkin, individually or collectively. Their passes missed the mark a little too often, shots didn't hit their intended targets and their offensive possessions didn't come with their usual spark.
Against the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center, with Ovechkin playing on the right wing rather than his typical spot on the left side, the Capitals' dynamic duo created scoring chances with flair and frequency along with linemate Brooks Laich. The trio combined for 20 shots and six points - five from Ovechkin and Backstrom - in Washington's 3-2 win over the Hurricanes, to help the Capitals snap a three-game skid.
"I thought [Ovechkin and Backstrom] were exceptional," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Both of them, it was one of those games where they very easily could have had five points each, I think. That's what I expect out of them, two of the best players on the planet. You've seen it for three years; when you don't see it you wonder what's up because this is the way they play the most of the time."
Backstrom scored two goals - giving him four in two games against the Hurricanes this season - with help on both by primary assists from Ovechkin, who tallied another assist on the game-winner by Laich. The pair had gone six and four contests, respectively, without a multi-point game. Ovechkin recorded a season-high 10 shots on goal after not taking more than five in the past six games.
In net, goaltender Semyon Varlamov made just his third appearance of the season after being hampered since training camp with a lingering groin injury, and earned his first win of the 2010-11 campaign with 30 saves.
The victory was a needed response after a stretch of showings - including back-to-back 5-0 losses on the road - deemed unacceptable by Capitals players and coaches. Wednesday night, the tone was set by their biggest stars, Ovechkin and Backstrom.
"It's good it's tight," Backstrom said about the game. "We were up 2-0 before the third period but they came back, there was a lot of emotion in there. That's good, I like those kinds of games. I think every hockey player likes those kinds of games."
Carolina controlled a good chunk of possession in the opening 10 minutes, but Varlamov withstood the flurry of Hurricanes chances - with help from the Capitals' defensemen, who cleared rebounds as the 22-year-old netminder settled in to his first NHL game since Oct. 21 in Boston.
But even as the Hurricanes pressed, Ovechkin and Backstrom threatened in the opposite end. With slightly more than 13 minutes gone in the first, Ovechkin unleashed a powerful wrist shot on Carolina goaltender Justin Peters while on a two-on-two rush. Backstrom drove to the net and smacked the rebound past Peters (35 saves) for a 1-0 lead.
The goal came after a converation Boudreau had with Ovechkin before the game.
"We wanted him to shoot more," said Boudreau, who added he moved Ovechkin to right wing to keep the two-time league MVP moving and increase his chances of putting pucks on net. "He's got a lot of assists this year but let's face it - he's a guy that shoots the puck. Right now he's a little bit snakebit on everything from goalies making great saves to hitting posts, but when they start going in for him they're going to come in bushels. You just know it."
Momentum carried over into the second for the Capitals, who were drawing penalties by moving their feet and challenging the Hurricanes. While playing four-on-four, Ovechkin gained control of the puck in the right corner and sent it to Backstrom, who skated into the slot and made a perfect move around Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason for a wrist shot that crossed the goal line inside the far post.
Washington responded on its own power play, though, capitalizing just five seconds after a slashing minor on Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner. Laich tipped a shot by Ovechkin past Peters for what proved to be the game-winner with 12:07 gone in the third.
They're "two pretty good players to play with," Laich said. "Little bit of an adjustment, shuffling the lines here and there looking for something that worked. I thought we could have had more than the goals we did; I thought we had a lot of chances they just didn't go in."
Capitals note: Washington played without defenseman Mike Green, who suffered an undisclosed injury on Monday against New Jersey.