WASHINGTON -- WASHINGTON – The struggling Washington Capitals' power-play unit needed a good bounce, and they finally got one late in the third period Wednesday night.
An Alex Ovechkin slap shot from the top of the offensive zone deflected off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and into the net for a game-winning, extra-man marker in a 2-1 victory against the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
"It is a matter of time," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Seriously, with the people you put out there you hope they simplify it and it is a matter of time before they get one and they got one at an opportune time."
The Capitals, who led the NHL in power-play proficiency last season at 25.2 percent, had started the season 1-for-16 with the man advantage before the goal. Add in a disastrous playoff series against Montreal in April, and the Capitals had converted just two of their previous 49 power play opportunities before Backstrom’s tally with 3:39 left in the final period.
New York forward Blake Comeau went to the penalty box for a hit on defenseman Tyler Sloan behind the Washington net. Boudreau called timeout to reinforce some details, and the team executed to perfection – a couple of nifty passes from Alexander Semin and John Carlson opened up a lane for Ovechkin and both Backstrom and Mike Knuble provided the necessary traffic in front of the net.
"He just told us that we had to work hard and make simple plays," Backstrom said. "That was our key before [the game] was simple play and a lot of shots. That's what was working, and a lot of traffic in front of the net. We got a lucky bounce, too."
Added Islanders coach Scott Gordon: "We did a lot of things right on our penalty kill. We really tightened things up and I liked what we did. Ovechkin shoots the puck and it goes off Backstrom's toe. He's trying to move his foot and it is in the back of the net. Those are tough to defend."
Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for his third straight win in net for Washington, and the Capitals completed a perfect homestand while sending the Islanders to their first regulation loss of the year. He has started each of Washington's first four games because Semyon Varlamov has a groin injury.
The Capitals expected the two young goalies to compete for playing time, but Neuvirth has had a head start and hasn't disappointed with his play. Varlamov has been practicing with the team the past couple of days and will likely dress for the next game Saturday at Nashville.
Who will start that game for the Capitals? That remains to be seen.
"[Varlamov's] ready, but Neuvy is making a great case for himself," Boudreau said. "He's gotten better in every game, and I felt tonight was his best game. We'll see – we know [Varlamov] is a very good goalie too. It's not ever going to be a controversy, I don't think. It is going to be two really good [goalies].
We're lucky and we're blessed with two good young goalies."
Added Neuvirth: "I am still learning in this League and it is my rookie season. Every game is a big experience for me, and I'm feeling I am getting better every game."
After the Islanders opened the scoring, Ovechkin evened the contest at one late in the second period. Backstrom picked off a pass by Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek in the neutral zone and sent to Ovechkin along the left wall near the blue line.
The Capitals captain beat New York goalie Dwayne Roloson low to the glove side for his fourth goal of the season. Ovechkin has tallied in three straight contests since being shut out in the opener at Atlanta.
"He's so good and he's got such a great release," said Roloson, who made 24 saves in his first start of the season. "He gets it in between guys and defensemen's feet and between their sticks. He just gets it through there and he shot a couple low tonight which he doesn't normally do. The first one tricked
"I thought [Roloson] played awesome," Comeau said. "We dominated in the first and third, but we cost ourselves with a goal there in the second period and that’s something we can’t have."
Nino Niederreiter put the Islanders on the board with the lone goal of the opening period. Captain Doug Weight collected a pass from Michael Grabner below the goal line and found Niederreiter just off-center in the slot for a one-timer through Neuvirth's legs.