TORONTO – It’s been a while since the Washington Capitals gave head coach Dale Hunter consecutive wins.
Washington scored four straight goals en route to a 4-2 road win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. It comes on the heels of the Capitals’ 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, giving the squad two straight decisions for the first time since mid-January.
Washington wasted little time getting the lead against Toronto, taking a quick 2-0 advantage on Marcus Johansson’s goal just 32 seconds into the contest and Alexander Semin’s goal just over three minutes later.
“It’s big for us to get them behind early,” said Hunter. “It’s hard to come back in this league and it just proves the point again—you have to have a good first and good things will happen.
“I was hoping we’d come out like start. It was definitely a good start to jump on them early like that and put them back on their heels.”
Washington has just five wins in 14 games this month but still remains in the thick of it in the Southeast Division. The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets are tied atop the division with 68 points each, just one more than the third-place Capitals.
Defenceman Mike Green played in his fifth game following groin surgery. He’s still without a point since his return but had a team-high 23 minutes of ice time.
“Tonight was a huge win for win for us,” Green said. “We’ve had a rough go the last six games, but this was big. It puts us back where we want to be and we got to keep getting better from here.
“It’s been a rough go this year and we got to make up some ground, so this is huge.”
Washington is ninth overall in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the eighth-place Jets. But the advantage of winning the Southeast Division is gaining the coveted third seed come playoff time.
Florida would appear to be in the best position to do so with two games in hand on Washington and four on Winnipeg. And the Capitals are clearly starting to feel a sense of urgency.
“Who knows what’s going to happen every night?” Green said. “Some teams are going to get hot and some are slipping.
“We’ve got to make ground on those teams. We can’t let any more games slip away. We don’t have enough time.”
Alex Ovechkin returned to the Capitals’ lineup and registered two assists.
“I feel pretty good,” Ovechkin said. “My line did a pretty good job, set the tone early scoring a couple goals.
“Everybody realizes and knows we can’t take a step back. We have to push forward, no matter what the situation is.”
Ovechkin admits the Capitals are scoreboard-watching but said the team must focus on itself.
“When (Panthers and Jets) play, we’re going to look at the stats,” he said. “We just have to not think about how other teams are going to play. We just have to concentrate on our game.
“It’s all about us. We have to control our game and control how we’re going to play the next game.”
Jeff Halpern scored his fourth goal of the season in the second while Keith Aucoin got his first goal also in the period. Aucoin finished off a pretty scoring play with Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin.
Aucoin is the AHL’s active all-time scoring leader with 777 points.
Michal Neuvirth got the win in goal, starting consecutive after Tomas Vokoun had been pulled the previous two contests. It was the first time this season Neuvirth has won two straight games.
“I thought I had a good game last night and I was pretty confident coming into this game,” Neuvirth said. “I was pretty excited when I found out (I was starting).
“I was feeling better every minute out there on the ice. It’s a great two points and I’m very happy with the team effort tonight.”