|Recap: Thrashers at Capitals by: Matt Witting November 10, 2001|
|The Capitals entered their Saturday night game against division rival Atlanta missing a number of key personnel. Steve Konowalchuk will be out for another 2-3 months with a hurt shoulder, Jaromir Jagr is resting his hurt knee, and Calle Johansson will miss the remainder of the season due to surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff that has been bothering him for a month. In addition, Ken Klee was out due to rib injuries and Brendan Witt missed the game for personal reasons. Without three of their top five defenders, the Caps had to perform a couple of emergency call-ups, Dean Melanson and Jakub Cutta, to fill the gaps. They also brought Stephen Peat into the game to provide the physical element that Witt and Klee normally gave them.
The first period went very well for the undermanned Capitals. The scored the first goal of the game for the second straight match, but only the fifth time this season. Adam Oates and Ulf Dahlen cycled the puck down low until Jeff Halpern cut back door from the high slot, sneaking behind the Thrashers defense. Oates skipped a pass between the legs and sticks of three Atlanta players to Halpern who calmed the puck and roofed it over the sprawling goalie for his first goal since opening night. Not content with the single goal, the Capitals took the ensuing face-off and tied a club record for fastest two goals by scoring again 6 seconds later. Trent Whitfield won the face-off to Sylvain Cote who led the charge up ice. He slid the puck over to Chris Simon on the wing, and Si took three strides into the offensive zone before firing a dipping slap shot that beat Norm Maracle glove side for a 2-0 Caps lead under 6 minutes into the game. Atlanta, visions of their 8-0 loss two nights ago at Buffalo, called time out immediately to regroup. Despite having to kill three penalties and getting out shot 7-6, the Caps got out of the first with a 2-0 lead on home ice.
The second period was worrisome from Washington’s perspective as Atlanta fired 19 shots at Olaf Kolzig, most of them on their four power plays. Kolzig stood tall, despite a couple of close calls, and kept the Thrashers under wraps. Washington was able to extend their lead mid-way through the period on their third 2-1 breakaway in five minutes. Joe Sacco and Ulf Dahlen streaked in on Maracle, with Sacco holding the puck on the left side. Sacco waited for the defenseman to drop to the ice before floating a saucer pass over to Dahlen who one-timed it off of Maracle’s ribs and into the side of the cage. Despite a number of chances, the Caps weren’t able to beat Maracle again for the duration of the game as Atlanta’s defense went into “let’s-not-get-embarrassed-again” mode.
The Capitals went on to win 3-0 despite getting out shot 34-20. The defense played a more physical style than they typically do, as did the penalty killers, and kept most of Atlanta’s shots to the outside. Kolzig sat on just about every rebound, preventing second chance points. The forwards fore-checked extremely well for most of the game, keeping Atlanta off balance.
Overall it was a good win for a beat-up, desperate squad. Beating one of the bottom two or three teams in the league isn’t normally a big deal, but Washington has every reason to celebrate snapping a six game winless streak and Kolzig’s first shutout of the young season. Jakub Cutta did not display the same lack of concentration that plagued him in the preseason, while Dean Melanson looked very good, especially when hitting people. Cutta’s offensive upside was visible as he made a number of nice passes out of the zone to start the offense going the other way. Stephen Peat didn’t get much ice time, but did win a fight in the first period and was loudly acclaimed by the fans. It was good to see Simon and Halpern get into the act on offense, and incredible to see what a difference it made in their play. Both looked much more focused, effective and relaxed after their goals, a good sign for upcoming games.
The Caps now have two days off to rest up before facing Ottawa at home on Tuesday.