Capitals 6, Thrashers 3
Eighty-eight seconds of hockey revealed a truth the Washington Capitals had long concealed. The team loaded with offensive stars finally played like it last night, using a three-goal eruption in the second period to stun the Atlanta Thrashers and snap a five-game winless streak.
Washington spent the first 20 games just trying to score three goals in a game, but scored three times in barely a minute and a half to overcome a two-goal deficit in a 6-3 victory at MCI Center, setting a season high for goals. Finally, the Capitals (9-10-2) seemed as threatening as the names on the roster would suggest. All four lines created scoring chances, and, for at least one night, mounds of frustration were lifted.
"We were getting frustrated," winger Jaromir Jagr said. "But the only way to get out of this is to start scoring goals. We did tonight. Hopefully, we'll continue to play the same way."
The Capitals had lost three straight at home and entered the second period trailing 2-1, then tied the game with their second power-play goal. Center Robert Lang set it up with a shrewd maneuver, turning his back to his defender and reaching back and redirecting a pass through the crease to Michael Nylander, who entered the game with one goal but scored two last night.
Fifty-four seconds later Dainius Zubrus, who was expected to be the first-line center this season but missed the preseason in a contract impasse and had not scored since April, finally caught a break. Zubrus was already playing his best game of the season when his shot stuck goalie Pasi Nurminen and inched over the goal line, snapping a 19-game funk.
"I've had a slow start, that's for sure," Zubrus said. "But coach threw me back on the right [wing] and that's where I've played most of my life. Maybe that's the reason why I felt so good."
The checking line charged the crease on the next shift, as they almost always do, and Mike Grier slammed in a rebound. Grier entered this week with one goal but has four in the last three games (including an empty-net goal last night), another sign of an awaking offense.
"Over the last week we've put a lot more pucks on the net and we've been a lot more creative in the offensive zone and tonight it paid off," Grier said. "We got a few lucky bounces and a few lucky goals that we weren't getting."
The Capitals had scored three goals only five times all season, but now did so in a single period. They reached the four-goal mark for just the fourth time this season; Washington is 5-1 when scoring three or more goals and 4-9-2 when failing to do so.
But this offensive renaissance sprang from humble beginnings.
A mere four minutes had elapsed before the boos began reigning down last night; the Capitals were off to yet another atrocious start a trend that has Coach Bruce Cassidy boiling just a few months into his first NHL job. Last night, Washington fell behind by two goals in less than 14 minutes against one of the worst teams in the league.
Defenseman Jean-Francois Fortin opted to pinch for a loose puck along the boards while the Capitals were short-handed, leaving three Thrashers to approach goalie Olaf Kolzig unimpeded for the first goal (the Capitals have scored first in just seven of 21 games). Fortin's defensive partner, Brendan Witt, was caught deep in the offensive zone on the Thrashers' next goal while Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a breakaway.
"We were certainly a little bit flat, but those were individual mistakes that cost us," said Cassidy, who resisted the urge to rip the team during the first intermission. "It wasn't so much the team, but then you get into that, 'Oh, my God, not again.' I was glad to see us bounce back."
The period was not a total loss, however. Jagr and Kip Miller worked a beautiful passing play on the power play to halve the deficit. Jagr scooped a diagonal blind backhanded pass to Miller at the far point. Miller faked a shot then sent the puck back to Jagr, who redirected it into the net for his team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Miller nearly handed the game back to Atlanta with a turnover right in front of Kolzig, but the goalie made the save, Nylander scored at the other end and the comeback was underway.
Capitals Notes: The Capitals honored former defenseman Rod Langway before last night's game for his recent induction into the Hall of Fame. Langway was presented with engraved Rolex, a portrait, Tiffany cufflinks and a family vacation in the Bahamas. . . . Winger Peter Bondra (back spasms) did not play, and recently recalled forward Ivan Ciernik took his spot in the lineup. Forward Glen Metropolit and defenseman Steve Eminger were scratched. . . . Captain Steve Konowalchuk took his second costly undisciplined penalty of the week, a rarity for him. Konowalchuk was called for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct late in the second period, and Dany Heatley scored a power-play goal to make it 4-3.