- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Washington Capitals have won plenty of high-scoring contests lately, but last night they proved they could prevail in a defense-dominated affair.

Donald Brashear and David Steckel scored in the third period, and goaltender Olie Kolzig made 18 saves to propel the Caps to a 2-1 victory in front of 16,168 at Verizon Center.

“We don’t always want to be in a shoot-the-lights-out type game,” forward Brooks Laich said. “We knew what they were going to do. They were going to try and keep it tight. … If we want to be a consistent, winning hockey team we can’t depend on Alex [Ovechkin] and [Michael Nylander] to score every night.”

After more than 40 minutes of scoreless hockey, it was Washington’s fourth line that opened the scoring. Laich won an offensive zone faceoff, which Matt Bradley corralled before skating into the corner. He sent it back to Laich for a one-timer, which deflected off Brashear’s calf and past Colorado goalie Jose Theodore 2:51 into the final period.

Steckel and Quintin Laing broke in on a 2-on-1 later in the period. Steckel’s centering pass never made it to Laing, but it did bounce off Colorado defenseman Kyle Cumiskey’s skate and into the net for his fourth of the season with 3:59 remaining.

Thirty-eight seconds later Marek Svatos cut Washington’s lead in half with a snap shot over Kolzig’s left shoulder. The goal seemed to inject life into an Avalanche team that was playing its third game in four nights, including back-to-backs on the road.

Colorado pushed for the equalizer in the waning moments, but Kolzig made a pair of big saves on Tyler Arnason in the final minute to preserve the win.

“It has been a while,” Kolzig said. “We’ve been in some barnburners the past few weeks — [8-6] games and 5-4 games — but in that time we haven’t given up chances at the end like we did tonight. … The bottom line is we got the job done and everybody contributed.”

Added Laich: “[Kolzig] saved our tails at the end.”

Scoring chances were few and far between in the first 40 minutes. Ovechkin hit the left post with a shot, while both Boyd Gordon and Laich had breakaway shots turned aside. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn erased a breakaway opportunity at the other end for Svatos with a diving swipe of his stick.

On a sluggish offensive night, it was fitting that one of the loudest ovations went to Laing. The minor league journeyman-turned Caps shot blocking extraordinaire put his body in harm’s way of back-to-back slap shots from the right point during a Colorado power play in the final period.

After the second one ricocheted out of play, Laing skated to the bench to a round of boisterous applause and was greeted by a slap on the helmet from Ovechkin.

“Sometimes I just play well and don’t have points,” Ovechkin said. “It was a little bit boring game, but we still have great chance to score goals. We have to win the games. It doesn’t matter.”

The Caps are now 12-6-4 with Boudreau in charge and at least momentarily moved into a tie for 12th place in the conference with Florida, pending Toronto’s result against Anaheim late last night.

Should Toronto not win in regulation, the Caps will wake up this morning the highest in the standings they have been since Nov. 2. They got there by picking up both possible points in the first of a critical five-game homestand that continues Sunday against Philadelphia.

“It was just, ‘Win tonight and worry about Sunday [on] Sunday,’ ” Boudreau said. “Winning five in a row looks tough, but winning one in a row isn’t as tough. Now we’ll try to win one more in a row, and hopefully that works.”

Notes — Chris Clark participated in the morning skate — the third straight day he has worked out with his teammates — but he missed his 18th straight game with a groin injury. …

Eric Fehr, who has not played a game in more than 10 months because of a mysterious back/hip ailment, was in the lineup for the Hershey Bears last night against Norfolk. Fehr had an assist and four shots and was plus-one in a 2-1 win against the Admirals.

Caps report

Last night at Verizon Center

PROSPECT UPDATE

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, a second-round pick by the Caps in the 2006 draft, was traded in the Ontario Hockey League for the second time this season. He was sent from Windsor to Oshawa yesterday, and the goaltender going the other way was Jakub Kovar, his Czech Republic teammate at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Neuvirth began the year with Plymouth but was traded to Windsor and went 6-1-1 with the Spitfires.

QUOTABLE

“It would be real nice, but we’ll take a win any day. I could think of a holiday for every game we play if that is what it took.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on playing on his birthday (Boudreau turned 53 yesterday)

BY THE NUMBERS

2,203 Combined career points for Colorado’s Joe Sakic (1,611) and Ryan Smyth (592) — both of whom are out of the lineup with long-term injuries.

Corey Masisak

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