Capitals survive bad start, long shootout

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Tomas Fleischmann kept on scoring in Alex Ovechkin’s absence Wednesday night, and Alexander Semin started doing so.

Scoring depth and relief goaltending helped counter a bad start and late penalties as the Washington Capitals prevailed 5-4 in a shootout against the New York Islanders at Verizon Center. Fleischmann scored for the sixth time in seven games, and Semin netted a pair after three straight forgettable performances without his Russian buddy.

Semin and Eric Fehr became the ninth and 10th players to score a goal for the Caps since Ovechkin was lost to an upper-body strain Nov. 1, and Washington moved to 3-1 without its franchise player. With 26 points, the Caps are in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

“Alex is the best player in the league, and he’s going to get the ice time he deserves, but if he goes down there is a lot of ice time to share,” captain Chris Clark said. “You get maybe one, two or even three or four minutes per game more than you normally do. I think guys are definitely putting the effort in and showing what they can do.”

Clark scored in the 11th round of the shootout, but not before Semyon Varlamov withstood eight consecutive potential game-ending attempts and sealed the victory with a final stop after Clark’s wrist shot beat Dwayne Roloson above his glove.

Varlamov stopped 25 of 26 shots in relief of Jose Theodore, who was chased less than seven minutes into the first period.

“[Varlamov] played well. … I don’t envy that situation, to come in cold and not prepared, but he stood on his head,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “Jose, the goals weren’t really his fault. … We feel bad as a group that we didn’t perform for him, and it is unfortunate that it takes [coach Bruce Boudreau] putting in a new goalie to wake us up.”

Semin put the Caps on the board first with a rocket from the top of the right circle eight seconds after the game’s opening faceoff. The goal tied Gaetan Duchesne’s tally on March 14, 1987, for the fastest to start a contest in team history.

By the time Theodore was out of the game, Semin also had missed a great chance, in part because he got a little too cute and had an ugly turnover that led to a breakaway goal. He redeemed himself with another goal during the rally and a shootout tally to go with 11 shots on net.

“[Semin] looked like he wanted to play, and when he wants to play, he could have scored six,” Boudreau said. “He makes some moves, and he can shoot the puck. He’s scary good when he’s motivated.”

Added Semin through an interpreter: “No game is without mistake. I’m just glad I became more responsible as the game went on and I scored a couple of goals.”

Three goals in five shots on Theodore - though he was screened by his own player on one and Semin’s gaffe was partially responsible for another - and Boudreau had to go to his bullpen. Varlamov helped steady the Caps while they mounted their comeback.

Nicklas Backstrom skated around one Islanders forward and deked past defenseman Brendan Witt but lost the puck in the slot with the Caps on the power play. It went right to Fleischmann, who blasted a shot from close range at 13:42 of the first period for his sixth goal since returning from a blood clot in his leg. Semin leveled the score at 3-3 with another extra-man goal at 5:35 of the second.

Fehr pushed Washington in front late in the middle period. He took a pass from Clark and with his back to Roloson whipped the puck toward the net. The pass was intended for Mathieu Perreault at the far post, but it glanced off an Islanders defenseman and beat Roloson to the short side at 16:46.

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