WASHINGTON (AP)—The tall guy holding the camera in the Washington Capitals’ locker room works for the team’s Web site.
Two and a half hours earlier, the same guy was sitting on the Capitals’ bench serving as an emergency backup goalie.
Keeping the camera focused, Brett Leonhardt shook his head in disbelief as he watched Brent Johnson answer questions about—who else?—Brett Leonhardt. Johnson might have been the top performer in Friday night’s 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, but the true star was the 6-foot-7 former college hockey goalie who had to suit up during the first 10 minutes of the game because of an injury.
“Every dream come true,” Leonhardt said. “Growing up in Canada, playing since I was 4. It was just very surreal. It was a blur, went by real quick.”
Leonhardt’s moment in the spotlight overshadowed the return of Sergei Fedorov and Mike Green to the lineup in a dominating performance by the Capitals. Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and Green all scored for the first time this month, Alex Ovechkin got his 16th and 17th goals, and Johnson made 32 saves to win his fourth straight decision.
“Sometimes when you see the adversity of the goaltending situation like it was evolving today, the players dig deeper for a teammate, for Johnnie,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said, “and I thought we played a pretty good game.”
Fedorov, who had missed 16 of 17 games because of a sprained ankle, finished with three assists. Green, sidelined 11 games by a shoulder problem, also had two assists. The Capitals, who have managed to stay atop the Southeast Division despite ailments all over, had welcomed back Semin and defenseman Tom Poti in their previous game.
But no injury scenario was stranger than the series of events that led to the lanky Leonhardt dressing for the game. A Division III goalie in college and a Capitals employee for about a year, the 26-year-old Leonhardt signed an amateur tryout contract after backup Jose Theodore injured a hip flexor during the morning skate.
“We had a little chat about what happens during warmup, and he was like, ‘What? What am I going to do?”’ Johnson said. “It was pretty funny.”
Leonhardt’s brief career—for which he will receive no money—ended when Simeon Varlamov, recalled from AHL affiliate Hershey, arrived midway through the first period.
By then, the Capitals were already ahead on Semin’s early backhand goal, his 14th goal of the season and first since Nov. 12. Laich got his first since Nov. 20 when he beat goalie Alex Auld on the glove side from high in the slot to make it 2-0 early in the second, and Ovechkin’s slap shot on the power play with 35 seconds left in the period gave the Capitals a three-goal lead.
Green and Ovechkin added power-play goals in the third period, and Jesse Winchester prevented what would have been Ottawa’s second straight shutout when he scored with 2:23 to play.
“We need to get going,” Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson said. “The last two games haven’t been good at all. It’s a bad loss for us.”
The five goals were the most allowed this season by the Senators, who remain the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. … Nicklas Backstrom had three assists for the Capitals. … Washington is an Eastern Conference-best 12-1-1 at home. … Johnson, continuing to make his case for the No. 1 job, already has nine wins, his most since the 2005-06 season.