By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 11:41 AM
Three players made their debuts for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, but with a minute left in regulation the team's recent run of futility appeared unchanged. The Capitals were scoreless, and goaltender Michal Neuvirth was on the bench for an extra attacker.
On the first shift after calling a timeout, though, Brooks Laich saw an unexpected clearing in front of the New York Islanders' crease as one of his new teammates, veteran center Jason Arnott, retrieved the puck from behind the net. Arnott slid a pass out front where Laich scored on a one-timer just inside the left post to tie the score with 47.1 seconds remaining. It was the boost the Capitals needed. Less than two minutes into the overtime session, Alex Ovechkin went end-to-end for a show-stopping game-winner to seal a 2-1 Washington victory over the Islanders.
"They missed the puck in our zone and I had full speed so it was kind of a pretty goal," Ovechkin said. "I'll take it."
Laich's goal was the first the Capitals had scored in nearly eight periods of play at Verizon Center, going back to a first-period marker on Feb. 12 against the Los Angeles Kings, and it sparked a comeback that salvaged an important two points. Washington has won four of its past five contests to improve to 78 points, three behind Southeast Division leader Tampa Bay.
The victory was the Capitals' first at home since Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh and just their sixth triumph in their past 19 games at Verizon Center - they are 6-7-6 during that span. The Capitals had also lost eight straight contests that had gone to overtime or shootout - dating from Nov. 28 against Carolina - and 10 of their last 11 that extended beyond regulation.
"It's important to get the idea that teams can't come into this building and win so easily," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was very similar to the game on the Island [a 3-2 Capitals win on Saturday] reversed. We had nine shots [early on] and two breakaways and when we don't score I'm going, 'Uh oh.' "
From the drop of the puck the newest Capitals appeared energized. Defenseman Dennis Wideman, acquired in a trade deadline deal with Florida on Monday, finished with a plus-two rating and a team-high 26 minutes 44 seconds of ice time. Marco Sturm, who was picked up off of waivers from Los Angeles on Saturday, showcased his speed and nearly scored on a breakaway on his second shift of the game. Then Arnott, in his second shift in a Washington sweater after arriving in a trade with New Jersey on Monday, nearly stuffed the puck over the goal line with a chance on the doorstep.
"You could tell today, everybody was tight on their stick a little bit and frustrated too at times," said Sturm, who played 12:46. "I felt great, I had a good jump but it was too bad I didn't score on that one right away, then it would have been a really good game. But for the first game here I felt all right."
The failure to cash in on those and other opportunities to take a lead against Islanders goaltender Nathan Lawson, a 27-year-old rookie playing in just his ninth NHL game, made it seem like only a matter of time until New York got a break.
The Islanders' moment came around the 10-minute mark of the second, when at the end of a long shift John Carlson turned the puck over at the Washington blue line, an error that gave way to a two-on-one for the Islanders. Matt Moulson fired a one-timer on the odd-man rush to give New York a 1-0 lead.
Lawson, who began Tuesday with an .879 save percentage and 4.56 goals against average, would finish the game with 40 saves.
But after surviving two penalty kills in the final seven minutes of regulation, the Capitals' energy surged as Boudreau pulled Neuvirth, who made 28 saves, for one more offensive push. In a matter of seconds the instincts of three players - Ovechkin sending the puck below the goal line, Arnott anticipating the dump pass and Laich moving to the front of the net - would make up for Washington's lost chances.
"To come back and get the point and then get the win is big," Laich said. "The new guys I thought were great. . . . For us, you look and you've won four your last five, five of our last seven. Hopefully we're turning it around a little bit."