The Washington Capitals played better defensively last night but far from flawlessly, and they were the first to admit it.
The Caps never trailed but seemed never to be completely safe from the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets, finally settling for a 6-3 victory.
Right wing Jaromir Jagr, who had a goal and an assist and was plus-2 defensively, left the game with about three minutes remaining with what is being described as a minor groin strain. His availability for tomorrow night’s game against Toronto is unknown.
Goalie Olie Kolzig, who had been bothered by an ankle injury from two weeks ago, was the surprise starter but got a much needed win, which the team also got to break a three-game losing streak.
“Any time you get a win it’s a good thing, especially the way the season’s gone so far and the skid we’ve been on for the last week or so,” Kolzig said. “We’re still not playing the way we should be playing, the way we can play, but the bottom line is we did win.”
“We still made some really stupid mistakes that you may get away with against an expansion team,” said coach Ron Wilson, “but we have got to continue to improve.”
It was the fifth straight road loss for Columbus, the 11th in their last 12 away from home but the Jackets scored three times, twice with Caps help and that’s what bothered Kolzig and Wilson.
David Vyborny was credited with a goal that accidentally glanced in off a defenseman’s skate but Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre scored off an odd-man rush that shouldn’t have happened and Tyler Wright got a goal in the third off bad coverage.
Washington got two goals from Sergei Gonchar and single scores from Stephen Peat, Adam Oates, Jagr and Colin Forbes, the latter making his Caps debut.
“There were a lot of positives,” Wilson said. “I was really pleased with the young guys [Forbes, Todd Rohloff and J.F. Fortin], they played real well. They played a steady game. And our top line played the way that it can, playing together and playing smart hockey.”
Oates and Jagr both had a goal and an assist and Dainius Zubrus, the left wing on the first line, had two assists to spark the attack which pumped 39 shots in on goalie Marc Denis, the same number as against Florida three nights ago but much better shot selection.
The highlight for fans might have been at 8:06 of the third when Jagr put on the type of display that has made him one of the top attractions in the game. He took the puck into the offensive zone, down the right boards and within split seconds had zigged and zagged his way through the whole Columbus team, passing to himself at one point through a defender’s legs, then ripped a shot into the net off Denis’ right arm. The goal was unassisted and finally gave the Caps the insurance they needed.
Meanwhile, left wing Peter Bondra, the Caps’ leading scorer with 24 goals and 41 points, was a scratch last night when his case of the flu got worse. Bondra had the ailment Monday night against Florida but played. It was the first time Bondra missed a game since the 1999-2000 season.
That raised to five the number of missing regulars the Caps have out and brings their man-games lost total to 113 for the season, well ahead of last year’s pace.
Also out for the Caps on a short-term basis are wing Ulf Dahlen (bruised foot) and defenseman Brendan Witt (sprained thumb), both placed on injured reserve yesterday to make room for players joining the roster from Portland. Out long-term are defenseman Calle Johansson (rotator cuff surgery) and wing Steve Konowalchuk (shoulder surgery).