This wasn’t the triumphant return to the District that Olie Kolzig envisioned. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance from his former team, either.
The Washington Capitals beat Kolzig with their first two shots and three of their first seven Monday night but needed another great effort from goaltender Brent Johnson to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 in front of 17,932 at Verizon Center.
After the Caps opened an early 3-0 lead, the momentum shifted. But Johnson, who made 34 saves, prevented any sort of comeback.
“[Johnson] was good again; he played very good,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I wish we were better in front of him to make it a little easier on him. He made big saves.”
It took more than eight minutes for the Caps to put a shot on Kolzig, but the first two were successful. Defenseman Tom Poti took a cross-ice pass from Donald Brashear and snapped a shot into the top left corner past Kolzig and a sliding Steve Eminger, who also was playing his first regular-season game here since leaving the organization that drafted him.
Less than two minutes later, Alex Ovechkin found Mike Green, who was trailing the play, on a four-on-three for his fifth of the season at 9:55.
The Caps showed a video tribute to Kolzig at the first official timeout. He received a standing ovation from the crowd, but his team was already in a 2-0 hole.
Eric Fehr put the Caps in front by three at 16:24 of the period. Fehr took a pass from Brooks Laich and ripped a one-timer from beyond the left faceoff circle for his first goal of the season.
“This team has always been that way; we have guys waiting in the weeds to step up and take over,” Fehr said. “When called upon, we have a lot of guys who can do the job.”
It was an opening 20 minutes in which the Caps finished with 12 shots and nearly as many quality scoring opportunities. Had Washington not passed on several open shots, the advantage at the first intermission could have been larger.
Instead of burying the Lightning in the second period, the Caps appeared to ease up, and Tampa Bay began to control the play. The Lightning outshot the Caps 18-6 in the second period, including a 16-1 advantage in the final 12:55.
“That’s what happens, unfortunately,” Boudreau said. “You could put three great periods together and win 9-0, but it doesn’t happen that way. … They come out much better, and we come out - even after you warn them what is going to happen - without that same fire, and they get 18 shots on goal, and you’re thanking the Lord [that] the goalie is making some great saves.”
Washington killed a four-minute power play in the second period, but Tampa Bay converted a third extra-man chance. Johnson stopped Martin St. Louis’ shot and Mark Recchi’s rebound attempt, but Gary Roberts was there to whack home a third chance at 16:30.
Ovechkin ended any doubt with his third goal of the season at 15:54 of the final period. Alexander Semin fired a pass from the left wall toward the net, and Ovechkin redirected it past Kolzig for his first goal since the home opener against Chicago.
“[Was it] my first goal in NHL?” Ovechkin said. “No, a goal is a goal. I am happy I score goal, but I am happy more that we win the game.”
Roberts added another power-play marker in the waning seconds, but the Caps improved to 6-0-1 this season at home and 12-0-1 dating to last season.
The nine games Ovechkin went without a goal was the longest drought of his career. There was a faint “Kol-zig! Kol-zig!” chant after Ovechkin’s goal, proof that the warm reception lasted about two hours.
“Of course I was [nervous],” Kolzig said. “I won’t sit here and lie to you and say that I wasn’t nervous. I was really nervous. But that didn’t have anything to do with spotting them three goals. I would have liked to have stopped one of those first two, but it is over with, and we’ll move on.”
Notes - The Caps played without defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov. Chris Clark returned after missing Saturday’s contest against the New York Rangers with an undisclosed ailment.