GREAT 8 LEADS THE CHARGE AS CAPS WIN THIRD IN A ROW:

With four- third period goals, three of them in the span of 2 minutes and 53 seconds, the Washington Capitals were able to overcome a two-goal deficit and defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 at Nationwide Arena on New Year’s Eve.

The third period come from behind victory was just the third time this season the Caps rallied to win when trailing after two periods, as Washington registered its third straight victory to end the 2011 calendar year.

The winning streak is the first such streak since starting the season a franchise best 7-0.

While three’s were wild in the stat column, No.8 was hot on the ice, and for the first time since Ronald Regan was President, team captain Alex Ovechkin scored multiple goals in back-to-back games. Now while the time line is a bit exaggerated , it's been a while since the Great 8 has put on an offensive display like the one he has during the Caps past two victories over Buffalo, and C-Bus.

Ovie last produced multiple goals in back-to-back affairs two seasons ago when he scored twice against the Penguins on April-6, 2010, and then two nights later scored twice more versus the Atlanta Thrashers. The Great 8 has now accomplished this feat nine times during his illustrious career, as he scored at least two goals in back-to-back games three times during the 2009-10 season.

Three times Ovechkin has scored five goals in two games, and is now the proud owner of a very modest six game scoring streak. Ovechkin has six goals and three assists during that span, and is now tied for 18th in the NHL with 16 goals. He is also climbing the ranks of the NHL in total points. Ovie has jumped 14 spots to 35th, and now has 31 points this season.

After scoring eight goals in his first 26 games of 2011-12, Ovechkin now has eight goals in his last 11 games.  If there is an observation to be made here and a difference pointed out in Ovies game lately it is the fact that he is just simply shooting the puck.

Ovechkin does not seem to be trying to get too cute with the biscuit, and is firing his 100 mph plus
shot that used to beat goalies on a nightly basis. The curl and drag, as well as him looking to make an extra move or two has seemed to disappear during the last two games, and the result has been four goals. If Ovechkin realizes that simply shooting the puck immediately when he is in the middle to high slot is the difference, than the Great 8 could truly be that once again.

FUTILITY THROUGH 40:

The Capitals looked as though they were going to become a victim of another hot goalie in Columbus. 

Spanning the Bluejackets previous two games, goalie Steve Mason entered the contest having stopped 61 of the previous 63 shots he faced. However, backstopping for the worst team in the NHL doesn't mean allowing one goal in each of the past two games results in victories. Mason lost an overtime shootout game, 2-1 to the hot Calgary Flames (Washington’s next opponent) last Tuesday, but earned a victory in the Jackets 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

On Saturday night Washington failed to score during the 44-minutes and 23-seconds of the game. They registered just 18 shots on goal until they scored on four of their next seven shots. Mason finished the contest with 33 saves on 37 Washington shots. Needless to say, the Blue Jackets 3rd round (69th overall) selection of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft cooled down considerably by night’s end.

The Capitals played true to form under new head coach Dale Hunter, who are now 8-6-1 since Hunter took over for Bruce Boudreau behind the Washington bench on November-29. The slow start through two periods has been a Caps staple since before Hunter, and played a prominent role during the Boudreau days.  

Washington entered the contest in C-Bus having been outscored by the opposition 73-59 during the first 40 minutes of play, and fell behind 2-0 when The Blue Jackets, last in the NHL with just 25 points, scored twice in the late stages of the second period to take a 2-0 lead through two periods.

While Washington has been outscored through two periods this season, they are no slouches during the final frame, and following last night’s game, have now outscored their opposition 46-32 during the third period this season.

After a scoreless first period by both teams, and with just 5:13 remaining in the middle stanza, rookie defenseman John Moore jumped into the play, took a pass from Rick Nash, and beat Caps starter Tomas Vokoun with a wrist shot from the slot. Samuel Pahlsson made it 2-0 with 35 seconds left in the frame when he fired a rebound past Vokoun.

The Caps kept coming, and for the second time in less than a month, scored four times to win in the third period. The Caps scored four against the Senators during a 5-3 win in Ottawa on Dec. 7 to give Hunter his first road win in the NHL.

However, according to the Caps web site, win No.20 came in the team’s 37th game of 2011-12 season. The Capitals won their 20th game in their 36th contest of the campaign in 2010-11. They won No. 20 in their 32nd game in 2009-10 and in their 33rd game of 2008-09. 

The last time the Caps earned win No. 20 later in the season was in 2007-08, when it came in the 46th game of the season. 


MASON NOT ONLY HOT GOALIE ENTERING PLAY ON SATURDAY:

Steve Masson wasn't the only hot goalie entering the game Saturday night. Tomas Vokoun, making his third consecutive start, had stopped 72 of the previous 75 shots he faced since relieving Michael Neuvirth in Buffalo last Monday night.

Vokoun was pivotal during the Capitals third straight win. He made a scintillating save on Mark Letestu during the third period keeping the Jackets locked down with two goals. Vokoun has now earned 15 of the Caps 20 wins this season, and has improved his GAA to 2.57, and his save percentage from .905 to .914 during this span.

Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, who is credited with the game winner, said Vokoun's 25 saves through two periods were key in giving the Caps the chance to come back.

"The game would have been a lot further out of hand if Vokie hadn't played as well as he did. He kept us within reach. We hung in there and turned it around in the third."

ALEXANDER THE GREAT PART II:

Ovechkin isn't the only Alex heating up for the capitals recently. The magic man (now you see him, now you don't) Alex Semin scored another big goal for the capitals during the win over Columbus. Semin, who has gone through rough stretches this season, including five straight games with no points, and eight games with one point, now has nine points in his seven games. 

Semin has turned it up recently, and for a change, when his team needs him the most. He has five points during the Caps three game winning streak. Semin recorded the primary assist on Nicklas Backstrom's game winning goal versus Buffalo last week, and scored the tying goal in Columbus on Saturday night. 

The Capitals are now 12-3-1 this season when Semin records a point.

THE BIG 3:

When the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Semin produce the Caps win. It’s just that simple. During the three game winning streak, the three amigos have combined to score 15 points with eight goals. 

Ovie leads the trio with six points (4G, 2A), Semin is second with five (3G, 2A), and Backstrom has four (1G, 3A) points.

FOUR-ON-FOUR ANYONE?

The Washington Capitals are not setting any offensive records or leading the NHL in very many offensive categories this season, but they do have the league cornered when it comes to playing 4-on-4 hockey. With more open ice to skate, and individual skill more of a factor, the Capitals lead the NHL with nine tallies when skating 4-on-4 this season. That is three more goals than the second place team.

Washington registered two more 4-on-4 goals Saturday night, and also scored one during an even strength situation. The Caps closed out their scoring with Ovechkin’s power play goal 11:03 into the third period.

Caps coach Dale Hunter said of his teams open ice efforts, "The 4-on-4 there was our skill. Alex made a great shot, Wides made a great shot. There were big plays by the people setting them up. We moved the puck around well on the 4-on-4 and created two goals."

WIDEMAN TO THE RESCUE:

Caps blue liner Mike Green missed his 23rd consecutive game on Saturday with a groin injury. Green did however make the trip to central Ohio, and did participate in the optional morning skate. When Green returns, or how long he stay’s healthy when he returns is anyone’s guess.

While many of the off- season moves General Manager George McPhee made have yet to pay huge dividends, the one he made last season to acquire defenseman Dennis Wideman at the trade deadline from division rival Florida, could be the best of them all.

Traded to Washington by the Panthers for Jake Hauswirth and Washington's 3rd round choice (Jonathan Racine) in 2011 Entry Draft on February 28, 2011, Wideman has been a beast on the power play. His six goals and 25 points are tops among Caps defenseman this season, and his three power play goals are tied for third on the team with Green and Nick Backstrom.

His game winner versus the Blue Jackets came as Wideman was quarterbacking the point as Washington skated 4-on-4. Washington is the fourth team Wideman has played for since being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 8th round (241st overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues on November 9-2005. He was traded to Boston by St. Louis in February of 2007 where he played for a little over three seasons before being dealt to the Panthers.

Wideman led the Caps with 27:37 in ice time, and he tied Alzner for the team lead with four blocked shots. Both Wideman and defenseman Roman Hamrlik were plus-3 on the night, as Wideman now has five points during the Caps last two wins.

ODDS AND ENDS:

Washington is now 4-3 all-time on New Year’s Eve and is 3-3 on the road when playing on the final night of the year. Friday’s win at Columbus is the Capitals’ first on the road on New Year’s Eve since a Dec. 31, 1983 win at New Jersey. 

The Caps went 27 games in between the two streaks of three or more wins, the longest such drought they’ve endured since they went the final 39 games of the 2006-07 season without winning as many as three contests in a row. (Caps Web Site)

Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on net, and Troy Brouwer led the Caps with six hits. For the third straight game, the Capitals blocked more than 20 shots, tallying 22 total blocks during the win in C-Bus.

The Capitals won one more faceoff (32-31) than they lost on the night as Jeff Halpern (8-11) won 73 percent of his red dot draws to lead the Caps. Brooks Laich won more than 50 percent taking 13 of 25 face-offs on the night.  

Washington’s plus/minus leader this season is Karl Alzner with a plus-12 through 37 games. The low man is Mike Knuble with a minus-8 through the same number of games.

With three wins is four nights, the Capitals improved to 5-2-1 in their past eight games. Washington (20-15-2) has 42 points but is sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture in ninth place.

The Capitals have one prospect participating in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships this season. Yevgeni Kuznetsov (2010 first round, 26th overall) was named Russia’s team captain for the 2012 tournament and collected nine points (three goals, six assists) while being named the game’s best player Thursday night in Russia’s 14-0 win over Latvia. Kuznetsov’s nine-point outing was the second-highest single-game point total in World Junior history. Only Sweden’s Peter Forsberg (10 points, 1993 against Japan) tallied more points in a single game.

13 current Capitals have participated in the U-20 World Junior Championships in past seasons: Michal Neuvirth, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun (Czech Republic), Karl Alzner, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera (Canada), John Carlson and Tom Poti (USA), Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Dmitry Orlov (Russia) and Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson (Sweden).

Caps GM George McPhee said recently that the Caps and Kuznetsov have yet to start negotiating a contract, but said he expects him in Washington next season. Current CBA rules prevent the Russian from joining the Caps this season.

THEY SAID IT:

"It’s a big win for us. Losing here would have erased the big effort against Buffalo and Rangers earlier this week."- Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun

“We had nothing to lose. We were down 2-0, it’s an all-out blitz and the guys did a great job skating, playing hard, never quit, and it’s a credit to them.”-Caps coach Dale Hunter

“Everybody was upset how we playing [in the first two periods]. I don’t think we play at all our game, so we just play hard and again this kind of win that we need and all the momentum on our side.”-Team captain Alex Ovechkin

"It's awfully frustrating, and it's really disappointing. For 50 minutes of that game, we were picture perfect. A lot of that that you saw tonight was four games in six nights. We looked like a tired hockey club and made a couple of mistakes. And some of their skilled players made some real good plays, too." Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel. 

NEXT GAME:

Vs Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

The Flames were hot but have recently dropped three in a row, after losing to the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Sunday. Calgary is 4-2-1 in their last seven games. They are in the middle of a seven game road trip as the World Junior Championships are being played in Edmonton and Calgary. 

Material from team media was used in this report: