WASHINGTON – Even when Alex Ovechkin is slumping, the Washington Capitals are capable of succeeding.
Take, for example, NHL-leading Washington’s 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night, which stretched the Capitals’ club-record home winning streak to 13 games.
There was goalie Jose Theodore, making a reflex save to cover up a bad mistake by a teammate.
There was Eric Belanger scoring his first goal for the Capitals, and fellow trade-deadline pickup Joe Corvo adding an assist.
And there was unheralded Eric Fehr, putting the puck in on a power play on a night that two-time league MVP Ovechkin’s season-high goal drought reached six games.
“We definitely feel we need to pick up the slack for him,” said Fehr, who has points the past three games. “I mean, he’s there every game, going against top defence pairings. It’s not an easy job for him. So the better job we can do of picking up for him, the easier it makes it on him.”
Theodore was spectacular at times, making 30 saves for his first shutout since March 17, 2009, against Florida.
“I thought he was by far our best player,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The goalie’s biggest play came in the second period, when the Capitals led 1-0 on Fehr’s goal but nearly gift-wrapped a tying score when defenceman Shaone Morrisonn accidentally sent the puck right to New York’s Brandon Dubinsky in front of the net.
It basically looked like a perfect pass from one teammate to another, but Theodore somehow recovered to stop Dubinsky’s backhander.
“That was definitely a turning point,” Boudreau said. “Any time they were putting pressure on us, Jose would get it, and he would stop it, and he would not let a rebound go tonight. And that’s, I think, the key to his game. He’s brimming with confidence. We hope he can keep it.”
That sort of play is particularly significant these days because at the other end of the ice, Ovechkin and linemate Nicklas Backstrom are not producing at their customary clip.
Entering Saturday, Ovechkin led the league in points (90) and was tied for the lead in goals (42), while Backstrom ranked fourth in points (77). But both have struggled since the Olympic break; Backstrom’s own goal drought is now at five games.
“They’re just off by, like, half a second,” Boudreau said. “Their timing since coming back from the Olympics has just been a little off. But you know they’re going to catch on. It’s going to happen, sooner or later. … I’m not worried about them. It says an awful lot for the rest of the players that they can score while two of your best players are not.”
Fehr put in his 17th goal off assists from Corvo and Tomas Fleischmann during a 5-on-3 in the first period.
“I don’t know really what happened, but you know it was a tough play,” said goalie Alex Auld, making his first start since the Rangers claimed him off re-entry waivers from Dallas last month.
Belanger doubled the lead in the second off assists from Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich – in Rangers coach John Tortorella’s eyes, an example of his team’s poor play.
“We probably fell asleep on the second goal,” Tortorella said. “When Semin throws a quick cross-ice pass, we’ve got two or three guys that just aren’t ready. So that’s the story of the game.”
New York’s coach wasn’t in a particularly expansive mood afterward, dismissing a question about whether he could pinpoint why mistakes happened by saying, “No, I can’t. Not here, anyway.”
Asked about leading scorer Marian Gaborik’s return to the lineup after missing four of the previous five games, Tortorella said, “Obviously, he needs to play better.”
NOTES: Ovechkin’s longest span without a goal since entering the NHL was a nine-game stretch last season. He has gone a month without putting the puck in the net for the Capitals: He had a hat trick in a victory over Pittsburgh on Feb. 7. … Washington hasn’t lost at home since Dec. 28 against Carolina. … The Rangers began the day tied with Atlanta and Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.