Washington DC-The Washington Capitals have yet to play quality hockey for a full 60 minutes yet somehow they keep finding ways to win.
Tonight a dormant powerplay finally cashed in as Nicklas Backstrom redirected an Alex Ovechkin blast from the point with 3:39 left in the game to break a 1-1 tie with the New York Islanders. The victory gives Washington a 3-1 record and a sweep of their three-game homestand to open the season.
The Capitals entered tonight's game just 1-12 with the man advantage, and were 0-3 heading into their fourth powerplay late in the third period. Washington finally set the powerplay up with crisp passing, and then Backstrom worked his magic.
"I was just standing in front of the net and [Ovechkin] was shooting at my feet," said Backstrom. "It was kind of lucky he didn't hit [them] too hard otherwise I probably couldn't walk tomorrow. It was a good one."
The Islanders, without James Wisniewski (suspension) and John Tavares (concussion), controlled the flow of play for much of the game, but could not score after an early tally by rookie Nino Niederreiter just 3:14 into the first period. Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth made several key stops with the score tied in the third, including a breakaway save to rob Matt Moulson of a goal.
Mike Green misplayed a puck in the neutral zone setting Moulson up for the breakaway, but Neuvirth came out of his crease to challenge Moulson and make the stop. "I was just trying to stay patient," Neuvirth said after the game. "That was a big save for us."
Neuvirth finished with 23 saves on 24 shots to win his third straight start since dropping the season-opener against Atlanta. With fellow goalie Semyon Varlamov sidelined due to a groin injury, Neuvirth is making a convincing argument to win the starting job full-time. However, Bruce Boudreau downplayed the competition at goalie.
"Neuvy's making a great case for himself," he said. "He's gotten better in every game and tonight was his best game. So we'll see; we know Varly's a very good goalie too so it's not ever going to be a controversy."
After the Islanders went up early on Niederreiter's goal, scoring was at a premium. Alex Ovechkin beat Dwayne Roloson late in the second period to tie the game. The goal was Ovechkin's fourth in as many games; a strong start for the two-time Hart Trophy winner.
Sparking Ovechkin's goal was an incident in front of the crease about midway through the second period. The Capitals were struggling to mount much an offensive, but after Roloson took exception to Matt Handricks in his crease, the atmosphere on the ice became a bit testy.
Hendricks ended up in front of Roloson at the goal mouth. The goaltender quickly jumped up and grabbed him after the whistle and both teams gathered around the fracas. Soon after Washington goaded New York into a penalty and settled in for a powerplay. Though the Capitals failed to score with the extra man, it helped them gain enough momentum to tie it before the third period.
The Islanders controlled play in the third period, but couldn't convert several opportunities, including a powerplay off a Mike Green holding minor 8:01 into the segment. Their inability to score set Washington up for Backstrom's heroics and a Caps win.
Game Notes: Washington successfully killed all three penalties against them to make it 15 consecutive penalty kills to begin the season.
DJ King, acquired by the Caps as an enforcer this offseason, made his debut with Washington tonight. He dropped the gloves on his first shift with Trevor Gillies after laying a heavy hit along the endboards.
Matt Bradley, Tom Poti, and Marcus Johansson were scratches. Hendricks centered the third line and David Steckel the fourth.
Tomas Fleischmann began the game at first-line center, but Boudreau moved Backstrom back up to the first-line after the first period.
The Capitals outshot the Islanders 26-24.