WASHINGTON (AP)—Hard work is often the only recourse for an inexperienced team like the Washington Capitals. Many nights it’s not enough, but sometimes it pays off with a big win.
The last-place Capitals hit hard, took 46 shots and took the streaking Philadelphia Flyers to a shootout Saturday, prevailing 4-3 after Brian Willsie beat goaltender Antero Niittymaki low and to the stick side with the deciding shot.
“We had about 15 or 16 games in a row where we just totally outworked teams,” Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. “We didn’t get the result every night that we wanted, but we hit everything that moved, we worked hard, there wasn’t one team that outworked us. You’re going to have a lull. We had two of them, and I’m glad we responded and didn’t make it three.”
Peter Forsberg, Sami Kapanen and Jeff Carter scored for the Flyers, who had their five-game winning streak snapped. They had also won six straight on the road, including the first four on their franchise-record 11-game road trip. They played without leading scorer Simon Gagne, who has the flu.
“This was as dead as we’ve been in a month,” Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I don’t remember us playing this poorly. We had no work ethic. Their workers controlled the game. It wasn’t their skill people. Their workers knocked us off the puck.”
Washington goaltender Olie Kolzig stopped attempts by Michal Handzus and Forsberg in the shootout, with Mike Richards netting for the Flyers. Matt Pettinger and Willsie netted for the Capitals, making for a positive start to a six-game homestand, their longest of the season.
“We’ve been playing well at home,” Willsie said. “Everybody’s feeling maybe we can string some games together here.”
Ovechkin wowed the crowd—even the thousands of visiting Philadelphia fans — by scoring his 23rd goal and creating another with his 21st assist in a four-minute span in the second period. He has five goals and five assists in his last five games, and his five-game scoring streak is the longest of his young career.
The only thing the Russian rookie didn’t do is add to his league-leading tally of five shootout goals. His attempt hit the right post.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Next time, I’ll score goal.”
Ovechkin’s goal came after he put a fancy move on defender Chris Therien and continued unabated toward the goal, hitting Niittymaki’s leg pad with his first attempt before easily putting in the rebound.
Ovechkin then helped give the Capitals a 2-1 lead when he intercepted a clearing pass in the left circle. Niittymaki went to the ice expecting Ovechkin to shoot, but the rookie slid a pass to his right to Zubrus for the score.
But the Capitals blew the lead. Mathieu Biron couldn’t handle a routine pass at the blue line on a power play, turning the puck over to Kapanen for a breakaway goal that left score tied at 2 headed into the third period.
Carter put the Flyers back in front with a power-play goal early in the third period, but Willsie poked in a rebound to tie it again with 11:06 remaining.
The victory avenged an 8-1 Capitals loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 3. … All 12 of Philadelphia’s first-period shots came on the power play. … Before the game, the Capitals recalled goaltender Maxime Daigneault from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and center Dave Steckel from the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Steckel made his NHL debut in the game, while Daigneault was needed an insurance because backup Brent Johnson tweaked his groin in Wednesday’s loss at New Jersey. … The Flyers toured the Pentagon on Friday.