By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 10:03 PM
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.
The Capitals didn't record a shot on goal against the New York Islanders until 11 minutes 51 seconds had elapsed. Instead they watched the Islanders out-hustle them and take shot after shot on goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Finally, after spotting New York a two-goal edge, Washington woke up.
Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble went to the net to find goals and Alexander Semin scored the deciding tally in a 3-2 win over the Islanders, Washington's fourth victory in the last six games.
During this up-and-down season, the Capitals (33-20-10, 76 points) often discuss the need for a full 60-minute game, outworking opponents and other traits of a successful team. The problem remains that they seldom exhibit those qualities for an entire game, let alone multiple outings in succession.
Following the embarrassing 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on Friday night, the Capitals turned their focus once again to those aspects, but the execution didn't arrive at the opening faceoff. Neuvirth started Saturday after Semyon Varlamov, who was scheduled to face the Islanders (23-32-8, 54 points), came up lame during the morning skate with an undisclosed injury that is believed to be a knee problem.
Coach Bruce Boudreau had absolved Neuvirth of blame for the ugly loss to the Rangers, adding that he was "left out to dry" by his teammates. In the first period Saturday, it appeared to be more of the same. Neuvirth made several key saves in the early going, including stops on Blake Comeau and Jonathan Tavares, but he couldn't be relied upon to take the play out of the Capitals' zone.
Jason Chimera took Washington's first shot near the 12-minute mark, a wrister about 30 feet away from Islanders goaltender Al Montoya but that did not provide a sudden surge in the Capitals' play. With 15:48 gone in the first, Kyle Okposo carried the puck into center ice where he beat Neuvirth with a shot from the slot to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
There wouldn't be a sudden response from Washington in the second, either. New York took a two-goal lead on the first shot of the period by Travis Hamonic. It appeared John Carlson tried to knock the puck down with his hand on the play but instead redirected it into the net. Neuvirth, who would finished with 29 saves, never saw the puck.
Matt Hendricks tried to rouse his teammates when he challenged Zenon Konopka to a fight but another bumbling moment would almost give the Islanders a third goal. Alex Ovechkin got tangled up with and fell on Neuvirth but a combination of both players' sticks and Scott Hannan, who rushed over to the post, managed to keep the puck from entering the wide-open cage.
Near the midway point of the period, Laich carried the puck into the Islanders' zone and created space for himself as he cut toward the net. He beat Montoya to cut the Capitals' deficit to one. Washington closed out the period showing some of the desperation and hunger necessary to complete a comeback.
Less than three minutes into the third period the line of Laich, Marcus Johansson and Mike Knuble teamed up again to tie the score at 2. Johansson used his speed to gain possession away from the Islanders' defense below the goal line, where he shoveled it to Laich near the right post. Laich was able to send the puck to Knuble 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 3 1/2 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.