The key to winning yesterday’s holiday matinee against the New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals said before the game, was to stay out of the penalty box. They didn’t but won anyway.
Right wing Petr Sykora (fifth NHL game) and defenseman Steve Eminger (62nd game) both scored their first career goals and rookie Alex Ovechkin got his first game-winner as the Caps held off the Rangers 3-2 in the wake of a pair of weekend shellackings at the hands of Atlanta.
Clinging to a one-goal lead entering the final 10 minutes, the Caps had to kill off a pair of minors, both holding calls against Chris Clark. With snipers like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Michael Nylander prowling the ice for New York, it was nail-biting time.
“We made some pretty good adjustments,” said goalie Olie Kolzig, who allowed only a pair of power-play goals, one to Jagr and the other credited to Marcel Hossa but accidentally put in by Kolzig.
“When it counted the most we killed the penalties. We said in the [locker] room that that’s the way we have to kill every penalty, with desperation like the game’s on the line. In order to give ourselves a chance, we have to stay out of the box but if we do get in the box, that’s the way we have to kill them.”
The winning goal came 9:03 into the final period with Steve Rucchin and Darius Kasparaitis serving penalties for the Rangers. Defenseman Jamie Heward took a long slapper that goalie Kevin Weekes stopped but let lie just to his right. The puck sat there for what seemed like minutes until Ovechkin swooped in and rapped it in.
“The rebound was lucky for me,” he said. “I had been waiting for this moment for the puck to come near [me]. I said, ‘Oh, my god, puck. Just shoot.’ ”
The goal gave him points in all four Washington games this season.
After Jagr scored early in the second, Sykora backhanded a Jeff Friesen rebound past Weekes for his first NHL score, the goal coming after it appeared the Caps would not convert on a 3-on-1 break. Hossa was credited with a goal later that Kolzig poked in when he tried to put it under his body for safe keeping.
Then Eminger drove home his first NHL score when he drilled a Clark rebound past Weekes with just one second left in the second period.
“As soon as I hit it it was kind of instant happiness,” the defenseman said. “I guess it’s one of my greatest hockey moments, scoring your first goal. It’s been two years already and I had nothing. It was a great feeling.”
Probably an even better feeling came from the job he and veteran defender Brendan Witt did on the Jagr-Nylander-Martin Rucinsky line, keeping it off balance for the entire game, holding the very dangerous Czech wing to just one goal off nine shots.
Notes — The last time the Caps had two players score their first NHL goal in the same game was Oct. 13, 1986, when left wing Yvon Corriveau and center Michal Pivonka both scored in a 7-6 win against the Rangers. … Center Boyd Gordon was called for delay of game when he shot the puck into the stands at 6:13 of the third, the first time a Cap has been charged with the penalty. That rule formerly was applied only to goalies but has been extended to all players.