Caps pull away from Wild, but Knuble breaks a finger

First-line winger is expected to miss three to four weeks

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Washington Capitals knew they were going to need scoring from everywhere in order to withstand a week or two without Alex Ovechkin, and on Friday night they got more of it.

Defensemen Mike Green and Brian Pothier scored the first two goals, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov bounced back from a bad goal to lift the Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center.

The win was the Capitals' fourth in a row and gave them a two-point lead in the Eastern Conference over the New Jersey Devils, their opponent Saturday. But the win came with a high cost: First-line right wing Mike Knuble broke a finger and will require surgery. The injury appeared to be to his left hand. A team official said Knuble is expected to miss three to four weeks.

Knuble is out just as Ovechkin seems ready to return. It was unclear Friday night whether Knuble's injury might mean that Ovechkin will return from a strain near his left shoulder against the Devils.

Despite the injury woes, the Capitals had plenty to celebrate as they headed to the airport for the trip to New Jersey.

Pothier's second goal of the season came two minutes into the third period and gave his team a 2-1 lead. And, for a change, the Capitals locked down the Wild, which was obviously tired after losing at Tampa Bay 24 hours earlier.

No bad penalties. No soft goals. Just a satisfying win.

"It was really nice not to take any penalties and limit their opportunities," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I was glad to see it. Because what usually happens in sports in you need that one hump game to do it, to get the confidence that you can do it without taking penalties and without [letting up] and hopefully that will lead to better things."

Something else that pleased Boudreau? Watching 21-year-old Varlamov shake off a soft second-period goal and close out an opponent by stopping all 14 shots he faced in the third period and 29 of 30 in the game.

"He shut the door," Boudreau said. "Even just allowing one goal was really strong."

Varlamov added through an interpreter: "I have to concede that it was an easy goal. I blame myself. But it's vital to forget those goals and concentrate on the game."

Rookie Mathieu Perreault, meantime, had another strong game and helped set up Pothier's game-winner. Back in the lineup because Boudreau appreciates the offense and creativity he provides on the third line, Perreault dished the puck to Pothier on the rush, and Pothier snapped a shot through a screen and past Josh Harding, who faced 40 shots and almost single-handedly kept the game from being a blowout.

"As a team, it's one of the things we've been struggling with," Pothier said, referring to hanging on late. "And it's really important this time of year to start making the commitment to holding leads of 2-1. . . . That's the sign of a great team. We've been good all year, but if we want to take the next step, that's the time we need to shut them down."

Boudreau on Perreault: "We'll keep him as long as we can. If we can afford to keep him [under the salary cap ceiling], we'll keep him."

But in order to be in position to pick up two points, the Capitals had to bounce back from a slow start.

Both goaltenders were impressive in the first period. Varlamov kept his teammates in the game in the opening minutes as the Wild poured shots on the net, and Harding frustrated the Capitals late, holding them scoreless in the first period for the first time in eight games.

After taking only two shots through the first 12 minutes of the first period, Washington fired 13 shots on Harding in the final eight.

Varlamov, however, had a hiccup early in the second. Cal Clutterbuck caught the Capitals goalie leaning and fired a shot that sneaked between his blocker and side at 1 minute 31 seconds to put the Wild ahead, 1-0.

Harding, meanwhile, stayed hot. He made a terrific glove save on Brendan Morrison to preserve the lead -- but only momentarily.

The Wild goalie could not stop Green's change-up from the slot on the power play moments later. Green took a feed from Tomas Fleischmann, and as he released his shot, his stick clipped a Minnesota player, resulting in an off-speed shot that fooled Harding. The goal was Green's first in eight games, third of the season and first on the power play.

"Thanks for reminding me," Green cracked when a reporter said the goal was his first with the man advantage. "It seems like I don't have a lot of room out there -- maybe because of last year. It seems like every guy is standing in front of me."

Boudreau was excited to see the defense pitching in. In fact, the goals by Green and Pothier marked the first time since February that the Capitals got two scores from blue-liners.

"If we can get the 'D' scoring and continue with the offense from up front, we'll be a dangerous team offensively," he said.

Capitals notes: Defenseman Milan Jurcina was sidelined with a lower-body injury that Boudreau described as a muscle pull. . . . David Steckel returned from Wisconsin following his grandmother's death and played. . . . Boyd Gordon has been medically cleared to return from a back injury that has sidelined him for a month, but he did not play.

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