LANDOVER -- It took four games, but last night in the third period of the fifth game of this NHL season, the Washington Capitals finally showed up.
The Caps burst onto the ice and scored two goals in the first 13 seconds of the third period to assure a 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The victory ended a three-game losing streak and soothed some worried minds.
"It feels like a long time since we won," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "We needed it real bad, to get out of this tailspin. Just looking at the way we played, we did a lot better things down in our own zone. We took care of the puck and we got a couple good performances from our leaders."
Despite an improved performance before a crowd of 12,911, the Caps (2-3-0)will face a better test tonight (7:35) at the Capital Centre against the Buffalo Sabres.
With last night's one-goal effort, Ottawa has scored 12 goals in five games. Buffalo, on the other hand, brings in a team that has piled up 27 goals while going 3-2-0 in its first five games.
"I think we can get things going like last year if we play this kind of game," said Caps defenseman Kevin Hatcher. "This is the kind of game we have to play. Solid defense in our own end. We'll take this victory for now. It means a whole lot to us, just to be able to stick to our game plan.
"It was really special teams that did it for us tonight," said Hatcher. "Maybe we can keep this going."
Just 59 seconds into the third period, Hatcher took a slap shot that bounced off Peter Bondra. The puck found its way to Mike Ridley, who was standing near the right post, and he put it away for his second goal of the night.
Pat Elynuik scored his second goal of the season 13 seconds later, when he scored off an assist from Dale Hunter.
Hatcher completed the rout by scoring the Caps' third power-play goal with 1:58 to play.
Showing the effects of two days of defensive fine-tuning, the Caps were seldom beaten to the puck during the first period and held Ottawa to six shots.
But the story was slightly different in the second, when neither the Caps nor the Senators were able to muster an attack. The Caps, at least, must have been saving it for the third.
Coming into last night's game, the Caps' power-play unit, like the entire team, was suffering. The success rate was 4-for-23 (17.4 percent) with a man advantage.
But against the Senators, the Caps got healthy, scoring two power-play goals in the first period to claim a 2-1 lead at intermission.
With 6:43 gone in the period, Ridley muscled Ken Hammond out of his defensive position in front of the goal, as Hatcher took a shot from outside the crease. In the meantime, Elynuik was busy distracting Ottawa goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz, so that when Hatcher's shot bounced out, Ridley had a clear rebound shot for the goal.
It was one of the few times this season the Caps were positioned for a solid follow-up and got it.
"When you've lost a few games like we had, you start doubting yourself," said Ridley. "It wasn't panic time, but we needed a win -- against anyone. I'd hate to be sitting here talking to you if we had just lost to Ottawa. Now we've got a really tough game against Buffalo."
Washington got its second power-play goal with 11:16 gone. Shawn Anderson, who was called up from the Skipjacks on Wednesday, made a nice pass to Bob Carpenter, who sent a terrific pass to Bondra in the slot. Bondra then slammed the puck past two Ottawa defenders and Sidorkiewicz for his third goal of the season.
Ottawa broke through at the 15:37 mark on its third power-play opportunity. Senators center Mark Freer was able to outmaneuver defenseman Calle Johansson, and the former Hershey Bear surprised goalie Jim Hrivnak with a shot that bounced between Hrivnak's legs and into the goal.
The period ended with Al Iafrate and Rod Langway each making diving blocks on Senators shots.
The action slowed down in the second period with the Caps getting only six shots on goal and the Senators five. "[Tonight] will be a bigger test," said Murray. "As we keep going, we'll continue to get a better read."