For the first time in over a decade, Dale Hunter celebrated a win as a member of the Washington Capitals, this time as head coach. C Brooks Laich’s overtime tally earned the former team captain his first win as Capitals bench boss and snapped the team’s four-game losing streak.
Laich, playing his 500th NHL game, converted a two-on-one chance on the rush with F Jason Chimera just 12 seconds into overtime. The players leapt off the bench to mob Laich while Hunter exchanged hugs and handshakes with his assistants.
“I think it was Karl [Alzner] who made a quick up,” Laich said of the play. “[I] won the faceoff, talked to Karl throughout the game. ‘you’ve made a couple plays to me quick up through the middle, get it up as soon as we can.’ Then I moved it to Jason [Chimera] because I knew he had speed on the outside. I think we got lucky because their d-man caught an edge and fell.”
C Nicklas Backstrom put the Capitals ahead just 1:58 into the game on a wrist shot from the high slot. The Senators controlled the puck for most of the rest of the frame, outshooting the Capitals 16-8. However, most of those shots were kept to the perimeter and were relatively easy saves for Capitals G Michal Neuvirth.
Senators D Erik Karlsson collected a failed clear by Backstrom and sent a wrister through traffic to tie the game at one early in the second. The score remained tied at 1-1 until Capitals F Troy Brouwer put home a crisp cross-ice feed from linemate Alex Ovechkin to give the Capitals the lead.
“[Ovechkin’s] learning more, especially when two guys are on him all the time,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin’s assist. “He’s our captain, he’s our leader. He does things out there that are very important.”
Washington clamped down and appeared on its way to a regulation win before Ottawa F Milan Michalek netted his 16th goal near Neuvirth’s crease. Michalek’s unit hemmed the defensively-sound line of Laich, Chimera and Joel Ward in their zone for an extended shift to create the chance.
Overall, Neuvirth played one of his better games of the season, aided by his team’s improved defensive work.
“[Ottawa] didn’t have any odd-man rushes and that’s a big key. It’s making it a lot easier for goaltenders, Neuvirth said. “We kept them on the outside.”
For a team that is adjusting to a new system and entered the game struggling to find its confidence, the win was perfectly timed.
“When you aren’t winning it’s not fun and you lose some confidence,” Hunter said. “They worked hard the last three games. Since I’ve been here they’ve busted their butts and usually you get rewarded for it. It happened tonight.”