Richard Zednik is a man of extremes. The Washington Capitals' winger either has great luck, or no luck at all. He either feasts on the opposing goaltender or leaves the ice frustrated. Consistency, often the last element to fall into place, still eludes him.
Zednik snapped a streak of 15 games without a goal yesterday, scoring twice in the Capitals' 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators before 13,497 at MCI Center, where Washington has earned points in 16 of its last 17 games.
It was Zednik's second two-goal game of the season; his previous two-goal game ended a streak of 12 games in which the 24-year-old did not score.
"Sometimes on my first chance it goes in and I think, 'Okay, it's going to be a good night,' " said Zednik, who was assisted on both goals yesterday by 21-year-old center Jan Bulis. "And other nights, maybe the puck hits the post and I say, 'Okay, its going to be hard luck, I'm going to have some chances but no luck.' Tonight, I had luck."
Zednik's continued development is another bright sign for the Capitals, who at 18-17-7 have reached the sixth playoff seed and are over .500 for the first time since Oct. 12, when they were 2-1-1. They have won four straight games for the first time this season and have one loss in their last nine games (6-1-2), yielding only 14 goals. They have allowed 45 goals at home this season, second fewest in the NHL.
Olaf Kolzig (27 saves) has benefited from the stronger overall defensive effort and had little work yesterday until the third period. Neither team was sharp at the start. The Senators were tired, playing a rare matinee game after flying cross-country. They had no jump until it was too late, faltering on three early power plays.
The Capitals gained momentum from their penalty-killers, who have been successful on 126 of 136 penalties over the last 36 games, including 60 of 63 at home. They cut down shooting lanes, protected Kolzig and created offensive chances, leading to the opening goal. Zednik left the penalty box to join the rush, charged behind the net and backhanded the puck to the crease, where it hit sticks and beat goaltender Patrick Lalime about 17 minutes into the game.
Washington played intelligently, content to beat the Senators at their own game, and took few chances against the defensively patient team. The Capitals put pressure on Ottawa's defensemen by consistently dumping the puck, then crashing them on the forecheck. It wasn't pretty--just effective.
"When you've got a trapping team you've got to get it behind their defense," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. "We wanted to try and get some good hits on their defense early in the game, knowing full well that they wouldn't have their legs."
The strategy paid off most after Wilson tweaked his lines, dropping Ulf Dahlen to the second line with Zednik and Bulis and moving Steve Konowalchuk up with Adam Oates and Chris Simon, similar to a switch he made in Friday night's win at New Jersey.
Bulis dumped the puck from the neutral zone and Zednik beat defenseman Janne Laukkanen to the puck, negating the icing. Zednik battled Laukkanen for the puck, Dahlen trudged behind the net to add to the commotion and Zednik crept around the post, sending a backhander that struck Lalime, rolled down his arm and inched over the line midway through the game for his ninth goal, all scored at home.
Kolzig lost a bid for his 14th career shutout, which would have tied Jim Carey for the franchise high, when Igor Kravchuk scored on a power play with 57 seconds remaining--actually a two-man advantage with Lalime pulled for the extra attacker. Still, no one was complaining afterward.
"You're really starting to see the confidence flowing through the team," Kolzig said. "We've got to force ourselves to see how good we can be."