- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

What’s the difference in a year? Consider: Last year at this time Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin had scored a collective eight goals for the Washington Capitals.

Granted, Semin was playing in Russia, but here’s what matters — this season the two have combined for 35 goals, including two each last night as the Capitals stopped their struggles, temporarily at least, with a 5-1 win over Montreal.

The win ended a five-game losing streak and was just the Capitals’ second victory in nine games.

“People talk about it too much already,” Zubrus said of the team’s slump. “Tonight we beat a pretty good team and the next game we got to play just as hard as we play tonight.”

Zubrus scored twice in the first period, both off assists from Alex Ovechkin, for his 15th and 16th goals of the season. Lawrence Nycholat, a 27-year-old rookie defenseman, scored in the middle period — again off Ovechkin’s assist. Semin spread his goals over the second and third periods, capping a five-goal outburst that ended Montreal’s chances for a comeback.

“We’d been on a five-game slide,” said Olie Kolzig, who stopped 27 shots, including a few of the spectacular variety. “We were kind of falling by the wayside and we just wanted to get back in the win column. It didn’t matter who we were playing, the goal was to win the game. We played well.”

The recent skid included losses in seven of nine games and came right after the team had won seven of nine. The victory gave the team a much improved 17-17-7 record and 41 of 82 available points. Last season at the halfway mark, the Capitals were 13-23-5 with 31 points.

Coach Glen Hanlon attributed the play to the recent roster stabilization after a month-long period of constant flux, with replacement players flowing in and out of the lineup. Less than two weeks ago, the team went with seven regulars out of action on consecutive nights.

“I thought it was a really great start for us,” Hanlon said. “It was a huge goal by Zubrus to get us [tied] and I thought he brought some strong leadership and was hungry on the puck.”

Craig Rivet scored the lone goal for Montreal midway through the first period. With Washington leading 2-1 in the second period, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was called for an interference penalty that nullified a Montreal goal and spurred the Capitals to score a quick pair.

“The turning point obviously was the goalie interference call,” Kolzig said. “Instead of being 2-2, we go down and make it 4-1. Bottom line was we took advantage of that situation.”

Kolzig helped put the Canadiens to rest late in the second period, making one stop, and when it appeared Michael Ryder had a good chance to score, throwing out his gloved left hand at the last second to prevent Ryder from driving the puck into an empty net.

Notes — General manager George McPhee returned from the World Junior Hockey Championship in Sweden last night, where three of the Caps’ selections from the 2006 NHL Draft were starring. Fourth-rounder Oskar Osala (Finland) was leading all goal-scorers with five; first-round pick Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) was a standout center and fellow first-rounder Simeon Varlamov will be in goal today for Russia in the title game against Canada. …

Left wing Matt Bradley (finger surgery) is scheduled to have the surgical pin removed from a finger early next week and might be back in action Tuesday against Philadelphia. Bradley has been out since he broke a finger on his left hand in a fight against the Flyers on Dec. 9. His physical presence has been missing. …

Also out last night were former Canadien Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery) and defensemen John Erskine and Bryan Muir, both with bone fractures in their feet. The Caps hit the halfway point in the season having lost 99 man-games to injury, illness or personal reasons.

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