By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 12:01 AM
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - For just the second time in nine games since the new year, the Washington Capitals scored first in a contest. Their star players looked like star players. They parlayed that momentum and confidence into a solid win on Thursday night.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom recorded multiple-point games in the same outing for the first time since Nov. 26 and rookie goaltender Braden Holtby made 24 saves for his third NHL win to boost Washington over the New York Islanders, 2-1, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The victory didn't include offensive glitz and firepower.
It did, however, display something arguably more important for these Capitals - a balance between capitalizing on scoring chances and solid defensive play to prevent an opponent from completing a comeback.
Washington killed six penalties against the Islanders, including four in the second and third periods while protecting a one-goal lead.
"I thought it was a great shutdown third period," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I was really, really excited about the way we held the fort, got the 2-0 lead and even though they scored one goal after that, we didn't give a lot up and when we did Holtby made a great save or two."
Throughout the season Boudreau has tinkered with line combinations, searching for the right mix among the forwards to balance offense and defense and perhaps spark some of Washington's stars out of their scoring slumps.
From the drop of the puck, the Capitals exuded confidence in their strides and rushes up ice. The latest incarnation of the top line was particularly effective with speedy veteran winger Jason Chimera skating alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.
On their second shift against the Islanders, each member of the trio notched a point as the Capitals took a 1-0 lead with 3 minutes 41 seconds gone in the contest.
Backstrom carried the puck up ice and drop-passed to Ovechkin, who shot toward the net where Chimera had blazed a path and tipped it past Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro.
New York's netminder, who just returned from missing a game because of the flu, finished with 22 saves.
The ability to establish an early lead was a welcome change from recent games.
"It's much easier I think when you don't have to do comebacks all the time," Backstrom said. "We think we started off pretty good, all the guys were just flying out there. It's good; that's what we need and that's what reminded me of last year, too. We came out hard every game and that's what we have to do if we're going to win."
The line continued to crash the net and by the conclusion of the contest the trio combined for five points, six shots and a plus-6 rating, earning praise from Boudreau for how they looked in their first full game together.
"It's fun playing with those guys, you get the opportunity to shoot the puck in good spots," Chimera said. "They back so many guys off and you find yourself with more time than you usually do on other lines."
Early in the second period, Backstrom snapped a 21-game scoreless drought with his first goal since Dec. 1 when he swatted a rebound from a shot by Ovechkin, who had a strong rush to the crease, into the net to make it 2-0. But less than two minutes later, with 5:15 left in the period, Michael Grabner rifled a shot past Holtby's glove to make it 2-1.
That tally was as close as the Islanders would get despite having four chances on the power play before the end of regulation. Washington limited New York to just four shots on the power play in the second and third periods as it showed that it, too, can stifle an opponent.
When there was a breakdown, Holtby made the necessary save to ensure the Capitals would improve to 13-2-4 when scoring the first goal.
"I forgot how many power plays they had, I didn't think they had that many scoring opportunities," said Holtby, who gave up eight goals over his two previous starts in November. "I think we did a great job of not letting them see anything from up top and that's how you're usually successful on power plays. Every time they'd go to shoot they'd see a guy in front of them and try to pass."
Capitals note: Washington recalled defenseman Brian Fahey from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears on Thursday.
He was a healthy scratch against the Islanders.