Thursday, February 19, 2004

If Washington’s Olie Kolzig and Sergei Gonchar are auditioning for jobs elsewhere before the March9 NHL trade deadline, they’re putting on quite a show.

Kolzig made 43 saves and Gonchar had the lead assist on two goals as the lowly Capitals upset the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils 3-1 last night at MCI Center.

“When you’re in a zone, everything seems to slow down and the puck looks pretty big,” said Kolzig, who shut out Chicago with 38 saves on Sunday and has allowed only two goals on the 92 shots he has faced in the two games since. “But I was a little more lucky than I was the other night [Tuesday’s 1-1 tie with Ottawa]. In the first period, [Jamie Langenbrunner] hit me in the blocker and [Jeff Friesen] put the puck right through the crease. But we’ve had our share of bad breaks this year, so it’s time they even out for us.”

The victory came in the first game since Kolzig stopped all but one of 48 shots and Gonchar had Washington’s goal against Ottawa. And it came a day after the Caps traded their all-time leading scorer, Peter Bondra, to the Senators.

The Southeast Division cellar-dwellers received big performances from three players who teamed to replace Bondra. Matt Pettinger, who took Bondra’s place on the top line, scored the game-winner on a gorgeous feed from Josef Boumedienne, who has replaced Bondra as Gonchar’s partner on the points of Washington’s power play. And Alexander Semin, inserted into the lineup in Bondra’s absence, had what coach Glen Hanlon called the 19-year-old Russian rookie’s best game as the Caps improved to 8-6-3-1 since Jan.7.

“When [Jaromir Jagr] got traded, it was different because we had to play that night,” Kolzig said. “Tonight we were able to put [Bondra’s trade] aside going into the game. We’re out of it, but we’re really feeling good about ourselves. It’s too bad this didn’t happen in October and November.”

Gonchar, who’s rumored to be heading to the Devils and could have been the subject of a chat general managers George McPhee of Washington and Lou Lamoriello of New Jersey had last night, got the Caps started after a scoreless first period. Gonchar picked off a weak clearing attempt by the Devils’ Colin White and quickly fired a shot which Mike Grier redirected past backup goalie Scott Clemmensen at 6:46 of the second period. The goal was Grier’s fifth in 11 games after he had scored just two in his first 46 contests.

At 14:27, Scott Niedermayer fed a pretty cross-ice pass to Scott Gomez, whose shot from the left circle rebounded off Kolzig to Elias for an easy goal over the fallen netminder. The goal was Elias’ third in four games against the Caps this season.

But with the Caps on the power play at 16:13, Boumedienne spotted Pettinger breaking free in the New Jersey zone and head-manned the puck to Pettinger, who ripped a shot past Clemmensen’s glove for his second goal in three games after he had scored three in his first 46 games.

Boumedienne said the pass wasn’t that difficult and credited Pettinger for getting so wide-open. However, Hanlon said it was a play that not many people can make.

All-Star center Robert Lang provided the insurance at 4:00 of the third period with a wrist shot from the left circle after skating out from behind the New Jersey net with a puck that had been directed there by Gonchar for his 40th assist.

Lang’s 27th goal and 69th point gave him the NHL scoring lead over Vancouver’s Markus Naslund. Kolzig maintained the two-goal lead by robbing Elias from point-blank range during a New Jersey power play five minutes later and then making a series of late saves with the Devils skating 6-on-4.

Notes — Caps center Dainius Zubrus was scratched with a recurrence of the “upper body” injury that kept him out of last weekend’s games in Nashville and Chicago … Left wing Kip Miller was a healthy scratch for the eight time in 10 games as Hanlon opted to make defenseman Rick Berry a forward again.

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