ATLANTA | The Washington Capitals won a game without the big guns providing the offense for the first time this season.
They also didn't play all that well and nearly blew a three-goal lead in the final minutes because of ill-timed penalties. Four guys scored their first goals of the season, and defenseman Jeff Schultz had his first career three-point effort to help the Caps fend off the Atlanta Thrashers 5-4 at Philips Arena on Thursday night.
"I think both teams were really sloppy and both teams got some pretty soft goals," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It wasn't a very well-played hockey game."
Added captain Chris Clark on the uneven effort: "I think the guys knew it - [Boudreau] told us, but we knew it ourselves."
Secondary scoring has been a minor issue in the early part of the season for the Washington Capitals, but their first game against a Southeast Division opponent proved to be a remedy.
The Caps had only three goals from players who weren't top-six forwards before Thursday night, but each of the five goals came from sources outside those top two lines.
"It was good because I didn't think our No. 1 line was very productive, and our special teams - that was probably our power play's worst night in the three years I've been here," Boudreau said. "You need them sometimes, and tonight we got them."
Washington took control of this contest with a flurry of goals in the middle period that chased Thrashers starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. It started with the most improbable tally of the season - Schultz sent the puck up ice from near the faceoff circle to the right of Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov.
Several bounces later, including a big hop at the end, it was behind Pavelec for Schultz's first of the season and a 3-2 Caps lead at 10:20 of the second. Both Schultz and Mike Knuble said the puck probably hit Knuble's stick as it trickled down the ice, but the scoring was not changed.
"I was just trying to move the puck up the ice and go for a change," Schultz said. "But I'll take it. They don't come very often. ... It feels great - you look at the stat sheet and always see zeros on there, so it is nice to see a couple of numbers across the board."
Seventy-four seconds later Matt Bradley banged home the rebound of a Schultz shot to make it a two-goal advantage. Bradley was the one forward outside the top six who was scoring before Thursday night, and he now has three goals and five points this season.
Shortly after Bradley's goal, Pavelec played the puck and drew a mock cheer from the Thrashers' fans, but it quickly turned to more groans and boos. Mike Green's shot from the top of the zone missed high, but Clark was there near the right post to put home the carom off the end boards for his first of the year.
The final carnage - three goals in 1:28 - and Atlanta coach John Anderson couldn't get Johan Hedberg on the ice to replace Pavelec fast enough.
"It was a mercy pull," Anderson said. "Ondrej was rattled; the whole team was rattled."
With Alexander Semin not on the trip because of what Boudreau described as a combination of "being sick and sore," Eric Fehr was promoted to the second line and didn't wait long to take advantage.
Fehr slipped between the Thrashers defensemen near the Atlanta blue line, and Schultz hit him in stride with a perfect pass to spring a breakaway. He snapped the puck into the top-right corner of the net for his first goal of the season at 2:02 of the first period.
To replace Semin and Boyd Gordon (back) in the lineup, the Caps recalled Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux from Hershey, and they hooked up for the team's second goal eight minutes into the period. Aucoin created a turnover in the neutral zone and helped send the Caps on a three-on-two.
Clark drove to the net to draw attention, leaving Aucoin plenty of space to send a cross-ice pass to Giroux, who beat Pavelec as he tried to slide feet-first into position.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a pair of goals for the Thrashers, including a six-on-four tally to draw the Thrashers within a goal in the final minute. Zach Bogosian had a short-handed tally to make it 5-3 as the Caps' power play not only went 0-for-7 but yielded a goal.
"I never once felt comfortable in that entire game," Boudreau said. "I just saw pucks bouncing and things going energywise - for both teams it wasn't what it should be, but we'll take the win."