Capitals 4, Flames 1
-- When wingers Jaromir Jagr and Kip Miller suffered injuries 10 days ago, the Washington Capitals feared the worst with the first-line suddenly dismantled. Now, three games later, the biggest concern might be how to fit the talented duo back into the lineup without disrupting chemistry.
The reconfigured first line -- Sergei Berezin, Robert Lang and Dainius Zubrus -- is scoring at a rate that even Jagr would envy, collecting seven points in tonight's 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome. Washington (35-26-8-5) began this critical six-game road trip through Canada in splendid form, pulling nine games over .500 for the first time this season and pressing Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division title.
The acquisition of Berezin at last week's trade deadline was greeted with little excitement -- Washington had failed to address its erratic defense -- but has been quite rewarding. Berezin scored on his first shot on goal with the Capitals and his line has amassed 15 points in three games together, either scoring or assisting on six of Washington's seven goals in that span.
"When Berezin was acquired, [General Manager George McPhee] knew Jags could be [out] more than day-to-day," Coach Bruce Cassidy said, "and it has worked out well. . . . They're hitting it off right now and that's good. We need the scoring."
It took 13 minutes for them to strike tonight in what was a methodical first period, precisely the kind of ugly hockey Washington craved. The Capitals, who won here for the first time since Oct. 30, 1992, were at their trapping best, holding Calgary to one scoring chance.
Zubrus, who is finishing this season with the same passion and production that he closed last season with, created the first goal. He won a faceoff, then began a pattern of twists and turns in the slot, evading the defense and forcing goalie Roman Turek into a tricky kick save. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who has a career-high 60 points, swooped in for the rebound and knocked it into an open net.
The second goal began with Zubrus, as well. He hit the post, drew two players to him in the far corner and passed to Lang. Lang, who has a six-game points streak, slid the puck to Berezin, who had plenty of time to tap in his 21st goal, coming about two minutes into the second period. The Capitals had scored five goals with Berezin in the lineup to that point; he scored three of them and assisted on the others.
"We're not trying anything amazingly creative," Zubrus said. "We're just staying within the system, getting pucks down low and making teams play in their end."
Calgary Coach Darryl Sutter, a mentor to Cassidy, yanked Turek from the net, trying to spark his team, and Jerome Iginla, the reigning NHL scoring champion, scored his 20th goal in the last 21 games. Washington responded about two minutes later.
Peter Bondra fed Michael Nylander at the top of the crease, and the former Flame sent a shot between goalie Jamie McLennan's legs, snapping a 14-game slump. Sutter immediately summoned Turek back into the net, but that move did not work, either.
Zubrus again did the dirty work, then dished to Lang, who stormed to the net and found Gonchar, who has three goals in two games after scoring once the previous 19 contests, for another easy score as all four goals tonight come within a few feet of the net.
"I'm just happy to be there," Gonchar said. "Zuby's line does everything -- all the work -- and I am just going to the open spot."
Penalty trouble nearly cost the Capitals late in the second period, particularly when Ken Klee picked up a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting Iginla from behind ("It was a cheap shot," Sutter said).
Iginla left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return -- Klee, who was unavailable for comment, faces a possible suspension -- and Washington's penalty killers were outstanding to effectively negate any chance of a comeback.