For Capitals, new coach nets 6-5 victory

Washington makes debut of Hanlon a successful one as fast start beats Bruins


December 12, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON With 1:24 to play last night, Jeff Halpern poked a loose puck into an open net for a three-goal Washington Capitals lead and what appeared to be pure padding in the teams first game under new coach Glen Hanlon.

But when the final second ticked off the clock, it was Halpern's goal that was the game-winner in the Caps 6-5 victory over the Boston Bruins before 15,384 at MCI Center.

"We were fine," said Hanlon, who was named the head coach on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Bruce Cassidy was fired. "All of this comes from that sense of nervousness. Every team goes through it. I told them it was a one-goal game, enjoy it."

In the post-game locker room, there was no doubt the Capitals were enjoying not only the results, but the game they had played to achieve it.

It, like most Caps games this season, started badly with Jaromir Jagr turning the puck over in the neutral zone and Boston taking the early lead just 2:19 into the opening period on a goal by Mike Knuble.

"I knew that goal wouldn't beat us," said Dainius Zubrus, who scored on a penalty shot in the third period for a 5-3 Caps' lead. "As good as Boston is, we have players who can score. The way the team felt before the drop of the puck, I knew one goal wouldn't beat us."

And Zubrus was right. Just 1:26 after Boston had taken the lead, Peter Bondra scored at the right post on a 5-on-3 power play. A minute after that, Jagr (one goal, one assist) scored the teams second power-play goal. When Matt Pettinger made it 3-1 about two minutes later, Washington was on its way to a night in which six different Capitals found the back of the net in a variety of different ways.

Bates Battaglia broke a 28-game goal-less streak that dated to last March when he was playing for the Colorado Avalanche. Zubrus scored on a rare penalty shot, the third attempt of his career and the first successful one. And Halpern, who had been struggling for offense, got his third goal of the season by diving to the ice and poking the puck into an empty net.

It was Washington's ninth win in 29 games this season and its first in four games, giving them a 9-18-1-1 record, which continued to rival Pittsburgh (6-15-4-2) for the worst and second-worst record in the NHL. Boston is now winless in its past five games (0-2-3), but at 12-6-7-4 overall, is second-best in the Northeast Division.

"There was just a different feeling out there tonight," Halpern said. "I can't speak for everyone, but for myself, it was refreshing. Like a new start. Nothing against [the previous coach], but you have the feeling that as long as guys work hard, this coach will stick with them."

That was the thing about last night. The Capitals did work hard from start to finish. In fact, they put so much pressure on the Bruins defense around their net in the third period that it led to Zubrus' penalty shot.

"I just thought about shooting at the five hole," said Zubrus, who connected on the ensuing penalty shot. "And I made it. I think wed all like to have the last minute of the game back, but overall, we played well and I think we all thought of it as a new beginning."

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