Capitals 2, Blackhawks 2
Most of the Washington Capitals spent Thursday night sharing dinner and memories with former teammates Andrei Nikolishin and Chris Simon. Twenty-four hours later, they fought and scrapped for 60 minutes against each other in a wild 2-2 tie at United Center.
Simon and Nikolishin were among the most popular players on the team prior to their trade to the Chicago Blackhawks Nov. 1 in exchange for Michael Nylander. Tonight, they were omnipresent as Nikolishin set up Chicago's first goal and Simon scored on a nifty redirection, tying the game with 86 seconds left in regulation and storming through the crease throughout a back-and-forth overtime. The quick reunion made for uncomfortable feelings as friends became foes. That was the backdrop for a rousing game of hockey.
"It was really exciting to tie the game up, but it was a little weird at first," said Simon, who had dropped to the fourth line with Washington. "I tried to keep it out of my mind and just focus on winning the game and doing what I do well. Both teams battled hard. I guess that's the way it goes when both teams work that hard -- it ends up in a tie."
The Blackhawks dominated the first half of the game, with only Olaf Kolzig (36 saves) preventing a landslide. The huge goalie, having a tremendous season, denied several breakaways, a penalty shot and barrages of other shots. He could not stop Simon's redirection on a late power play -- a perfectly placed shot -- and watched his longtime friend celebrate on the ice.
"I didn't know who actually scored the goal until they announced it," Kolzig said. "Then I thought, 'I'll never hear the end of this.' But it's good for them. I'm sure they're glad it's over with, and I know we're glad it's over with. It's a tough situation. The trade just happened."
Simon and Nikolishin, skating together on the second line, made an impression on their first shift. Simon rattled Rick Berry in the corner, dislodging the Plexiglas, and went to the penalty box along with rookie Steve Eminger. Simon headed to the visitor's box, clearly still getting acclimated here.
The Capitals (8-7-2) used that four-on-four situation to their advantage. Jaromir Jagr left a blind backhand pass for Sergei Gonchar, got the puck back and fired into an empty side of the net about four minutes in (Jagr has scored seven of the team's 21 goals in 11 road games). That was the Capitals' only shot of the opening period. The rest of it played out before Kolzig.
The Blackhawks, unbeaten in five games, harassed the goalie with constant shots. Kolzig, who has a sparkling 1.88 goals against average against Chicago, dove out to deny Sergei Berezin from close range and thwarted several wild flurries in the low slot.
"That's what he does," Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He's an all-star goalie and he showed why tonight."
Kolzig's most cogent save came at the end of the first period. Capitals defenseman Ken Klee hauled down Steve Sullivan on a breakaway, and Sullivan was granted a penalty shot. Kolzig, always the aggressor, darted to the face-off circles, then backpedaled, went into a split and kicked his right leg out, denying Sullivan room to make much of a move and stopping his fifth penalty shot in six attempts.
"I just pushed hard and it hit my big butt," Kolzig said. "I was surprised, I thought Si and Niko would tell him to shoot [sooner]."
Kolzig denied Kyle Calder on a breakaway early in the second period, and Washington was getting out-shot 14-2 at that point. The Capitals could not get the puck to the offensive zone and were lucky to be in the game.
"We've got to find a way of getting out of our end a little quicker," Steve Konowalchuk said. "The play seems to stay in our end a lot."
Chicago's pressure finally resulted in a power-play goal late in the second period. Nikolishin won the faceoff back to star winger Eric Daze, playing his first game of the season following back surgery, and he fed former Capitals defenseman Phil Housley, whose blistering shot went just below the crossbar (Housley has 43 points in 40 games against Washington). Robert Lang matched Housley's effort 100 seconds later, surprising goalie Jocelyn Thibault with a high shot with 1 minute 45 seconds remaining in the second period, a lead Washington gave away.
Capitals Notes: Struggling forward Dainius Zubrus was a healthy scratch for the first time since being acquired in March 2001. Zubrus missed all of training camp in a contract impasse, began the season as the first-line center and has yet to score a goal this season. Glen Metropolit took Zubrus's spot on the fourth line while defenseman Brendan Witt (shoulder sprain) is out until at least Tuesday. . . . Coach Bruce Cassidy said he had no special feelings about returning to Chicago, the team he played all 36 of his NHL games for. "It's not something I'm really thinking about," Cassidy said. . . . Results of Thursday's MRI on minor league defenseman Nolan Yonkman revealed no serious damage beyond a muscle pull near his groin, although an exact timetable for his return is unknown, General Manager George McPhee said. . . . Nikolishin is Chicago's top defensive center and was particularly attractive to the club for his face-off prowess. Chicago won 69 percent of the faceoffs tonight as Washington's centers remain in a funk.