Capitals 7, Hurricanes 1
Everything about this game ran contrary to the Washington Capitals' season. The team excelled in all areas of play, grabbed an early lead, suffocated their opponent's attack and dominated on special teams. It culminated in a 7-1 thrashing of the Carolina Hurricanes last night at MCI Center, giving the club its fourth victory in 16 games.
The Capitals (4-11-1) have spent much of the season chasing other teams around the ice and trying to stage desperate comebacks after falling far behind. This was a rare three-period effort, giving 16,649 ample occasion to cheer and putting the Hurricanes away well before the final whistle.
"We haven't had this kind of scoring since the first game we played this season," said Robert Lang, who netted his first career hat trick. "It definitely was a great win. Everybody felt really good. Everybody contributed."
Lang put his club on top 84 seconds into the game and went on to tie a career high with four points. He opened the scoring by retrieving Jaromir Jagr's rebound in the far corner and wiggled along the boards, eventually squirming out from behind the net on the opposite side. Goalie Kevin Weekes had most of the net covered but left a hole between his pads and Lang found it.
Lang leads the Capitals with 10 goals and 21 points, doing so with little help from his slumping teammates. Last night marked only the fourth time this season Washington has scored more than two goals in a game, with the club falling below the three-goal plateau in 12 of the past 13 games. Lang, however, has been held without a point in just two contests and extended his point streak to seven games, with seven goals and 13 points in that span.
"The puck is just following him around right now," said Jagr, Lang's right wing and longtime teammate. "And he is really taking advantage of it. The guys playing with him want to set him up. It's like in basketball, if someone has the hot hand you keep getting him the ball."
Carolina (4-6-5) had every opportunity to tie the game swiftly, but wasted a stretch of six straight minutes on the power play early in the first period. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig faced just three shots on the extended man advantage, with defensemen Brendan Witt and Steve Eminger, just back from a concussion, each on the ice for three of the six minutes the Hurricanes spent on the power play. Carolina's power play, which entered the game ranked 28th in the NHL, continues to stumble.
"That's the first thing I talked about [to the players] after the game," Washington Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "The [penalty killers] were the difference. . . . They certainly gave us a lift, which we needed."
Washington was happy to head to the first intermission up by a goal -- the Capitals are 4-0 this season when leading after 20 minutes -- and withstood a charge from the Hurricanes early in the second period before adding to their lead. That score came 31 seconds into Washington's first power play.
Sergei Gonchar sent the puck to Lang up the right boards and he left it for Dainius Zubrus in the slot. Zubrus one-timed past Weekes's glove and into the far side of the net for sixth goal of the season, a total he did not attain until Jan. 12 last season.
"Any kind of a lead is very important for us, because it has been a very tough start to the season," Zubrus said. "Any kind of win is good for us right now. . . . But it's just one game and we're still in a pretty deep hole."
Two-goal leads have been most difficult for the Capitals to come by -- they have led by multiple goals in just three games this season -- and they added another score before the second period closed. Brian Willsie stripped Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward of the puck behind the net, spun from behind the net and whipped a shot beneath the crossbar for his first goal as a Capital and first NHL goal since March 6, 2002 (35 games).
Zubrus, Alexander Semin and Lang sandwiched goals within an 86-second span early in the third period, cementing the result. Ryan Bayda scored for Carolina, foiling Kolzig's bid for a shutout with a fluky goal, and Lang ended the scoring barrage with five minutes to play.