Dale Hunter’s third game as an NHL head coach and Brooks Laich’s 500th game as an NHL player could hardly have had a better ending for both.
Laich scored 12 seconds into overtime to give Washington a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Capitals’ first victory under Hunter, who replaced Bruce Boudreau Monday and lost his first two games at the helm.
”It feels good,” Hunter said. ”It’s something you want to get over with right away, hopefully the first game but it ends up being the third. It’s one of those things you want to get under your belt and move on.”
Laich won the overtime faceoff then brought the puck through the neutral zone. As he passed Jason Chimera, Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson tripped and fell to the ice, giving the Capitals a 2-on-1 break. Chimera brought the puck down the left side and dumped it to Laich, who was trailing the play. Laich slid to the right of Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson for his fifth goal of the season.
”I moved it to Jason because I knew we had speed on the outside and I think we got lucky when their D-man caught an edge and fell,” Laich said. ”Jason made a good play.”
The Senators had twice fought back to tie the game before catching a few bad breaks.
”He just caught a rut — tripped over his feet kind of,” Anderson said of Karlsson. ”Karl played an unbelievable game, was one of our best defensemen out there, and it’s unfortunate he got caught in a rut.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored less than 2 minutes into the game and Troy Brouwer also had a goal for the Capitals, who snapped a four-game losing streak. The Capitals had been 2-7-1 in the previous 10 games.
”When you’re not winning, it’s no fun. You lose some confidence,” Hunter said.
Alex Ovechkin, also playing his 500th game for Washington, added an assist.
Karlsson and Milan Michalek scored for Ottawa.
Hunter has tried to give the Capitals a greater emphasis on defense and forechecking, and Washington’s players said they were starting to feel comfortable in the new system.
”Try and make baby steps every day,” Laich said. ”We were better in our second game from our first game and I thought we were better tonight. We get that first win out of the way now and now we get out on the road. We were not getting the results and now we’ve got out of a little funk with a win.”
Washington goalie Michael Neuvirth, starting for the first time in five games, had 32 saves.
The two teams were tied at 1 going into the third period, and Washington broke the tie on a rush, with Ovechkin’s cross-ice pass finding Brouwer in the right circle, where he redirected the puck past Anderson.
The Senators again evened the score with 3:15 left in regulation, when Michalek poked in a loose puck in front of the net.
”They have a big team that makes you play along the wall, and we did a good job of getting the puck to the front of the net and we stuck with it until we got it in,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said.
The Capitals opened with an early lead as Backstrom took the puck in the neutral zone from John Carlson, crossed the blue line on the left side and skated toward center ice, where he snapped in a wrister from between the tops of the circles for a goal at 1:58 of the first period.
Ottawa tied it 58 seconds into the second when Karlsson’s shot from the blue line on the right side slipped past Nuevirth.
Washington picked up the win despite continuing woes on the power play. The Capitals were unsuccessful on four opportunities and have gone scoreless in 11 power-play chances over the past four games.
Despite those problems, despite giving up the lead against Ottawa twice and despite the Capitals’ recent struggles that led to the mid-season coaching change, Washington came out of this one optimistic things were about to turn around, thanks in large part to Laich’s goal.
”That’s kind of a great way for him to end it,” Washington’s Mike Knuble said. ”He’ll remember that one, I’m sure, for a while.”
Notes: Capitals F Alexander Semin missed the game with an upper-body injury. … Ovechkin has scored 309 goals, the eighth-best mark all-time through 500 games. … Laich was drafted by the Senators in 2004 and played one game for Ottawa before being traded to the Capitals. … Senators RW Chris Neil (sprained ankle) returned after missing nine games. … The Capitals do not play another Saturday home game until March 31.