By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 12:27 AM
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - For a team that professed to be in desperate need of a win after its worst thrashing on home ice since 2006 the night before, the Washington Capitals didn't show much urgency through the first half of their game Saturday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
After watching the New York Islanders outhustle them and spotting the team with the third-worst record in the NHL a two-goal lead, the Capitals were rewarded in a not-so-kind way with Coach Bruce Boudreau's assessment of their play during a timeout 5 minutes 35 seconds into the second period.
Not long after Boudreau's wake-up call, Brooks Laich got the Capitals on the board to help spur a momentum shift in their favor. Goals by Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin in the third period completed a much-needed 3-2, come-from-behind win that marked the Capitals' fourth victory in the last six games.
"Quite frankly, I was telling them we stink and we were being embarrassed by 22- and 23-year-olds, and we were," Boudreau said of his message during the timeout. "We were lucky up to that point that it wasn't 5-0. After that point when Brooks got his goal, I thought: 'Okay, we knew we could score a goal again.' We got a little bit of life and we played like a hockey team after that."
A 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Verizon Center 24 hours earlier had the Capitals embarrassed and reeling from their lack of consistency and work ethic. So when Washington came out with the same minuscule amount of energy against the Islanders, who won six of 10 games before Saturday's contest, it was goaltender Michal Neuvirth who had to help hold the game within reach.
Neuvirth found out after the morning skate that he would be starting after Semyon Varlamov suffered an undisclosed injury - believed to be a knee problem - during the workout. The lack of advance warning for the game didn't impede his play. Neuvirth finished with 29 saves and made several key stops, particularly early as the Islanders heavily out-shot the Capitals and controlled the play.
The Capitals didn't even record a shot on goal against Islanders goaltender Al Montoya until 11 minutes 51 seconds had elapsed.
"If they had been 5 percent sharper on a couple plays it could have been 4- or 5-0 before we even got going," Knuble said. Neuvirth "made a couple saves and held the fort down for us, and when you're outplayed for 30 minutes you need that. Then we kind of turned the tables, but he was there to hold us in."
Kyle Okposo scored 13:48 into the first period to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead. Then only 33 seconds into the second, Capitals defenseman John Carlson tried to swat down a shot by Travis Hamonic and wound up redirecting it into the net - Neuvirth never saw the puck - and it was 2-0 Islanders.
Matt Hendricks tried to spark his teammates after the fluky goal when he fought Zenon Knopka. Then, after a bumbling moment when Alex Ovechkin became tangled up with Neuvirth and almost yielded a third Islanders goal, Boudreau called the timeout.
"I think when we got the timeout, the lights turned on for a lot of us," forward Marcus Johansson said. "We started doing what we're supposed to. We worked harder than they did, and I think that was a big turning point for us and we kept going."
Laich carried the puck into the Islanders' zone near the midway point of the period on what appeared to be a harmless play, but he scored to make it 2-1. Washington closed out the period showing some of the desperation necessary to complete a comeback and began spending significant time in the offensive zone.
At the start of the third period, Johansson beat the Islanders' defenders to the puck below the goal line and shoveled it along to Laich near the right post. Laich fed the puck to Knuble, who had eluded the defenseman closest to him, on the other side of the crease for a tap in.
Washington continued to establish itself in the offensive zone and pepper Montoya (19 saves), the sixth goaltender to start for the Islanders this season. Nearly 31/2 minutes after Knuble's goal, Semin gave the Capitals their first lead of the game. With his patented curl into the center of the ice that can leave opposing defensemen helpless, Semin maneuvered for a wicked wrist shot that made it 3-2.
"I think we had started to move our legs and get pucks a little bit deep," Laich said of the shift in momentum. "And half way through the game you could see their 'D' were a little tentative and maybe a little fatigued going back for the puck, and that comes with working together, getting pucks deep and applying pressure."