DENVER | It was a rousing return to Pepsi Center for ex-Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore and a delightful NHL debut for Kyle Wilson.
A 6-1 rout Tuesday of the Avalanche was also the first road victory for the Washington Capitals against a team in the top half of the league standings entering the day since an opening-night victory in Boston.
It was exactly the type of victory against an elite opponent the Caps have been lacking of late, but this impressive destruction of a team that entered the evening one point from the top of the Western Conference was marred by a pair of injuries to key members of the Washington defense corps.
With the Caps ahead 5-0, Colorado’s David Koci hit Mike Green from behind into the boards. Green left the ice with help, and was bleeding from his face. John Erskine picked a fight with Koci while Green was prone on the ice behind the Washington net.
“I didn’t see him coming. It just sucks,” said Green, who was sporting several stitches above his swollen left eye. “It was kind of unnecessary. I was just shaken up and no point in coming back to this one.”
It is fair to say Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased with the play. Green said he will likely ride a stationary bike tomorrow in Vancouver instead of practice, but he doesn’t expect to miss the next game — Friday against the Canucks.
“Please, the guy [Koci] has one goal in six years. He couldn’t play in the American League,” Boudreau said. “I’ve faced David Koci. He might be a nice guy — I have no idea. I’m glad he’s making a living. Let’s be honest if this was any [other] game he gets on the ice in the 1st 3 minutes, gets into his fight and then he sits at the end of the bench, so what good is he?
“I mean, [for] 15 feet he saw Green’s No. 52 and it didn’t stop him one iota from hitting him in the back and going for his head. I hope they throw the book at him. It was a bush-league hit.”
Koci is the third player in seven games to be ejected for a transgression against the Caps, joining Florida’s Mike Duco and Philadelphia’s Daniel Carcillo. Duco was not suspended for jumping Alexandre Giroux, but Carcillo earned a four-game suspension for his hit on Matt Bradley.
After the game, general manager George McPhee said he is not concerned about the recent rash of incidents against his club.
“It seems like it is becoming a pattern,” David Steckel said. “But [Erskine] stepped up tonight and the other two times our power play stepped up and scored two or three goals. I’m sure the league will look at it.
“I don’t really know what a heavyweight is going to do to deter the situation. It has basically been stupid plays on all three. What are you going to do? Have a guy out there to just take care of stuff like this? Well, [Erskine] took care of it tonight.”
The Caps also lost Shaone Morrisonn to an injury in the second period. He did not take a shift for about 11 minutes during the period, went out for 19 seconds after Green was injured and didn’t play in the final 24 minutes of the game. Boudreau said the injury came from a hit by another questionable hit by Koci, and he is more questionable moving forward than Green.
With Washington down to four healthy defensemen (and Erskine serving 17 minutes in penalties), Brooks Laich spent the third period patrolling the blue line. Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz both took penalties, so for four minutes the Caps had two defensemen that started the game — Schultz or Poti and Karl Alzner.
“I don’t want to do it again — it was so hard,” said Alzner, who logged 9:21 of ice time in the third. “Of all the places to be [shorthanded], this is probably the worst to do that. We all banded together and did what we had to do. It was interesting. I can’t wait to see what the stat sheet says. I guess that is what it feels like to be Mike Green and play that much every night.”
Theodore returned to the arena he called home for two-plus seasons and made 27 saves in the victory. His biggest save came in the first half of the opening period when he robbed Chris Stewart from point-blank range.
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming back,” Theodore said. “I have so many great memories and my family really liked it here. When we landed yesterday, it was a little bit of sadness and a funny feeling. It was good to come back and have a good win.”
Tomas Fleischmann put the Caps on the board first just 1:56 into the contest. Eric Fehrs shot from the right post clanged off the near post, and Fleischmann shoveled the rebound past Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson, who was pulled after 40 minutes.
Wilson made a backhanded pass out of a scrum along the boards to Fehr to start the play and earned a point on his first NHL shift. He also had a chance in close to score a goal on each of his next two shifts.
A ninth-round pick by Minnesota in 2004 who didn’t sign with the Wild, Wilson began his tenure with this organization in the ECHL with South Carolina before earning a promotion to Hershey. He scored two goals in his first game with the Bears, and proceeded to net 82 in the previous three seasons for them.
“You got to get a little bit lucky sometimes and the puck bounced the right way,” Wilson said. “Hopefully I can keep getting bounces like that.”
Mike Knuble gave Washington a 2-0 advantage at 17:03 of the first. Nicklas Backstrom sprung Alex Ovechkin and Knuble on a 2-on-1, and the veteran forward put a backhanded shot along the ice to beat Anderson. It was Knubles first goal since returning from a broken right pinky finger.
Steckel made it a 3-0 game 4:02 into the second by putting in a rebound from Matt Bradleys shot for his second goal of the year.
Fleischmann added his second on another nifty play by Wilson. He intercepted an outlet pass by John-Michael Liles and sent a perfect pass to Fleischmann in front of the net, and he redirected it for a tap-in tally.
“I guess if you got two points every night it would be tough to send you home,” Wilson said. “I’ve just got to keep working.”
That’s 13 this season in 23 games for Fleischmann, which ties him with Alexander Semin for second on the team behind Ovechkin. It is also six goals in seven games for the Czech left wing.
Bradley stretched the lead to 5-0 by banking a shot off Anderson from below the goal line. It was Bradley’s sixth of the year — one more than he had last season.
Not only was this an emphatic road victory against a top opponent, it also helped the Caps move past a disastrous outing Saturday night in Toronto when they blew a two-goal lead in a 6-3 defeat.
“We talked about it in between periods about how [the Toronto loss] might be a cheap lesson and we can’t let it happen again,” Boudreau said.