Oates: To play in this league, defense needs confidence
It took Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner 148 games at Verizon Center before he scored a goal in front of his home fans. He didn’t want rookie Nate Schmidt to wait as long.
So, after scoring a first-period goal – his first ever at VerizonCenter – Alzner lit a little fire under his 22-year-old teammate.
“He said, ‘Hey, I got my first home goal of my career,’” Schmidt said just before he was presented with the puck from his first NHL goal. “Might as well chip in.”
Alzner and Schmidt scored their first goals of the season and Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Eric Fehr also found the back of the net as the Caps rolled over the Nashville Predators 5-2 for their third win in four games.
The Caps improved 15-12-2 and regained their hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the idle Carolina Hurricanes.
Just as importantly, head coach Adam Oates was able to spread out some of his ice time among all 12 forwards and six defensemen as the Caps prepare for Sunday night’s battle in New York against the Rangers.
For three days the Capitals talked about the importance of getting a lead and building on it and Saturday they did just that, getting first-period goals from Brouwer, Ovechkin and Alzner en route to just their seventh win in regulation.
“Lately, we’ve had to come from behind and you’re not going to have a ton of success doing that,” Brouwer said. “You can only win so many games doing that. We wanted to get off to a good start and we did.”
The Caps fired 12 shots in each period against Predators goaltender Marek Mazanec and scored on three of them in the opening 20 minutes. Two were of the ugly variety, with Brouwer swiping at a loose rebound and Alzner snapping a shot through a screen.
“It wasn’t the prettiest goal I guess,” Alzner said, “but I’m happy I finally got one.”
Three of the Caps’ five goals were scored after faceoff wins, including a nice third-period point blast by Schmidt, who scored on his 37th shot of the season.
Seconds after he scored Schmidt was mobbed by his teammates. The first to greet him was defense partner John Carlson and he lifted him off the ice.
“I was ecstatic,” Schmidt said. “When I saw him coming I almost tried to go against the boards because I felt like he was going to hit me. It was great. We played a hard game tonight.”
“We’re all happy for him,” said Eric Fehr, who had a goal and an assist. “Obviously, that’s one of the best feelings in the world, getting that first goal and it was a key one for us.”
Oates said he was happy with his team’s all-around play, including the young defense pairing of 22-year-olds Dmitry Orlov and Patrick Wey, who was playing in his first NHL game.
Oates said Wey handled the puck like a “foreign object” on his first couple shifts, but settled down nicely as the game continued. He logged 13:36 of ice time, including 31 seconds on the penalty kill, and finished with one shot, one hit and one blocked shot.