WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals are getting great goaltending and explosive offence. It’s a combination no one has been able to stop.
The Capitals’ team-record winning streak stands at 13 games after a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.
Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 39th goal, and Michal Neuvirth made 43 saves to help keep alive the longest streak in the NHL in nearly nine years.
“It’s difficult to stay at a pace when every team you’re playing is coming at you in waves because they’re the ones who want to end it,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time.”
The 13-game winning streak is the NHL’s longest since New Jersey won 13 straight in 2001. The last time a team had a longer streak was when Pittsburgh set the NHL record with 17 in a row from March 9-April 10, 1993.
“I think it doesn’t matter if they’re on a roll or not. They’ve been pretty good the last three years,” Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. “They’re just playing great.”
The Capitals also matched the franchise record of 10 consecutive home victories in a half-empty Verizon Center. The game was announced as a sellout, but many fans stayed home as a snowstorm hit the nation’s capital.
Tobias Enstrom and Rich Peverley scored for the Thrashers, playing a day after trading scoring star Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey.
Neuvirth started in goal for Washington after being called up from Hershey of the AHL earlier in the day. He ran into trouble less than 3 minutes into the game when Peverley’s shot bounced off Neuvirth’s shoulder and Enstrom scored on the rebound.
Neuvirth – who has won four games for the Capitals during this streak – made nearly every play the rest of the way.
After Washington took a 2-1 lead on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal 4½ minutes into the second period, Neuvirth faced a flurry of shots. Atlanta had 22 shots in the period and Neuvirth stopped all of them. The best was an acrobatic catch above his head as he fell to a sitting position on the ice late in the second period.
“I was not that sharp in the first but I think I was getting better every minute,” said Neuvirth, sent to Hershey on Jan. 31.
Neuvirth’s play set up Washington to take control in the third period. Goals by Alexander Semin and Jason Chimera 1:08 apart in the third period gave Washington a three-goal cushion. An empty-net goal by Mike Green iced the win for the Capitals, who haven’t lost since Jan. 12 at Tampa Bay.
“The guys want to win more than anything,” Boudreau said. “That’s why they come out in the third period and they’re pretty well in control so far in the third period lately.”
Ovechkin tied it at 1 on a power play at 13:41 in the first period, after leaving the offensive zone to get a new stick from the bench. Backstrom found Ovechkin with a pass as soon as he skated back across the blue line, and Ovechkin fired a slap shot past Pavelec.
Neuvirth could do little about Peverley’s short-handed goal in the third period. The puck was knocked in by Semin, who slipped while trailing the play.
The Capitals will attempt to win their 14th straight against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home Sunday.
“We want to win, but the most important thing is to win in the future,” Ovechkin said. “Right now we keep winning, but we’re thinking about the playoffs and what we have to do to be better in the playoffs.”
NOTES: Atlanta has lost three straight. … Backstrom did not play in the third period. Boudreau said he had flu-like symptoms but he should be fine for Sunday’s game. … Green returned to the Capitals lineup after serving a three-game suspension for elbowing Florida’s Michael Frolik in the head. … Goalie Braden Holtby was assigned to Hershey to make room for Neuvirth….Atlanta centre Marty Reasoner played his 600th NHL game.