Nicklas Backstrom is going a long way to prove that he is more than just Alex Ovechkin's caddy.  He had a two-goal night -- his fifth of the season -- to lead the Washington Captials to a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, before a sold out Verizon Center.

Backstrom added an assist as well on Mike Knuble's first period goal and was simply dominant.  In addition to the scoring, he was 53% in the dot on faceoffs and part of a penalty kill that gave up just two shots in six minutes shorthanded.

Newly minted captain Alex Ovechkin had a goal (his 28th) and assisted on both of Backstrom's tallies, breaking a two-game scoreless streak.

The Caps got out to a quick 2-0 lead, courtesy of some good old-fashioned hard work.  The fourth line had several good shifts in the first period, but none better that the one that resulted in Boyd Gordon's first goal of the season -- his first in over a year.

David Steckel, Matt Bradley and Gordon cycled the puck in the corner against the Senators' defense, and Steckel twice went into the corner to dig the puck out.  Gordon got a wrister off that goalie Pascal Leclaire knocked aside but could not control. 

Bradley took a whack at it, drawing a backchecking forward, and the rebound snuck out to Gordon in the slot, who dumped in into a poorly defended net as he was knocked face-first to the ice.

Gordon has missed significant time this season dealing with back spasms, and his head coach was happy to see his determination and hard work pay off with a goal.

"You have no idea how big a relief it is, if you haven't played the game, to score a goal when you haven't scored," coach Bruce Boudreau said of Gordon. "He works so hard and gets so little credit sometimes, so it was nice to see him score a goal and feel good about himself."

"The so-called fourth line, when they got on they outworked the opposition and they were successful," Boudreau remarked after the game.

But Chris Phillips sneaked a bouncing puck past Jose Theodore with two and a half minutes left in the second period, and everyone wearing red in the building started to hold their breath.

Backstrom then picked the team up.  On the opening faceoff in the third period, the 22-year old took a feed from Ovechkin at the left wing circle and beat an out-of-position Leclaire near-side from a sharp angle, as Backstrom shot practically from the goal line.

Ten minutes later, the Swedish Olympian took a puck at center ice, skated through the defense, behind the net and wrapped the puck around the post, fooling a slow-reacting Leclaire, who did not have the best night facing 38 shots.

"[Backstrom] showed a lot of leadership because I thought we were floundering a little bit in the second period when it was 2-1," Boudreau said. "Then he comes out in the third period and gets two goals. He was just determined. That's what's making him one of the best."

Backstrom now has 17 goals this season, and nine in his last 11 games.

Goalie Jose Theodore, who was beaten for six goals his last start against Carolina Dec. 28, played well, turning aside 26 of 28 shots faced.  He played with a confidence that had been missing his last couple of starts.

"I thought Jose played good.  If he'd had any luck today he should have had a shutout," Boudreau said of his netminder.  "You can tell he's solid when he's controlling his rebounds and he really controlled his rebounds tonight."

"I'm really happy for him and I hope that gets his confidence going."

Theodore stressed the extra shooting he's taken during practice and work with goalie coach Arturs Irbe is making a difference in his preparation and concentration.

Win the win, the Caps raise their record to 14-3-3 at home, and Boudreau was quick to point out to the press that when they return from their three-game road trip next week, they will have played the fewest home games of anyone in the league, something that he hopes will help the team down the stretch to capture the Eastern Conference title.

Notes:  Quentin Laing and Tyler Sloan were healthy scratches.

Brian Pothier played for the first time in 11 games.  Washington is just 7-6-1 in games Pothier has not played this season.

The Washington Capitals entered Tuesday night's game with the Montreal Canadiens on a three game regulation losing streak and in need of a spark. 

They got that and more, as Alexander Semin scored twice, Tomas Fleischmann registered a goal and two helpers, and Michal Neuvirth pushed aside 24 of 26 shots, as the Caps completed a 4-2 victory over the Habs before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.

The biggest news of the day, however, was the biggest spark that could have been provided.  Earlier in the day, and announced just at game time, two-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin was named as the 14th captain in Capitals' history, ending a three-game captainless stretch, the result of the trade that sent Chris Clark to Columbus.

Ovechkin was held without a point in his first game as captain, making it two games in a row the prolific scorer has been held off the scoresheet.  But it was of no matter, as his countryman, Semin, tallied twice, including the icing on the cake with just over two minutes remaining.

To illustrate the point of leadership, coach Bruce Boudreau had his captain take the ice as time dwindled with the Caps fighting off the extra skater with less than a minute left.

Fleischmann played a complete game in his first start at center in the NHL, scoring the first goal of the game -- unassisted -- on the power play.  He also helped out on both of Semin's goals as well.  The flourishing touch?  He even won the majority of his faceoffs, something he needed extra practice for with faceoff specialists David Steckel and Biyd Gordon in yesterday's practice.

Perhaps the only blemish on the victory was two third period penalties by veteran alternate captain Mike Knuble.  He was whistled twice in the final frame, and the first ended with Benoit Pouliot's fifth goal of the season, which brought Montreal within one.

But the Caps killed the second infraction, then Semin notched the insurance goal at 17:58.

Ovechkin becomes just the sixth Russian born player to captain an NHL team.  He is the second youngest captain in Capitals history, and the third youngest captain in the league.

Boudreau heaped praise upon his newly minted leader. 

"I talked to him a few days ago about it," Boudreau said. "He said, 'I would accept the responsibility, but only if my teammates want me to. If they're happy with me as a captain, I'd be glad to be captain.' So he was already thinking about the team rather than thinking about himself, which is what captains do."

Ovechkin was circumspect in the locker room following the game.  "We have a lot of guys who can speak and talk. But if I have to say something, I say something."

Notes:  After the game, the Washington Post reported that David Steckel has signed a contract extension.

In the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, Team USA defeated Team Canada in the Gold Medal game, winning 6-5 in overtime.  Caps' prospect John Carlson had two goals in the game, including the game winner on a 2-on-1 breakaway in overtime.

The Capitals took 43 shots -- a season high -- and marked the eighth time this season they've recorded 40 or more. They are 7-0-1 when taking 40 or more shots.

Photos From Habs v. Caps; Ovi wears C (C) C. Nichols 2010.

CAPS GAME NIGHT: Caps Come Home to Host Habs

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, January 05, 2010 | , , | 1 comments »

Montreal Canadiens (21-20-3-45, fourth in Northeast)
Washington Capitals (24-11-6-54, first in Southeast)

The Washington Capitals come home after a brutal road trip, losing to Los Angeles and San Jose by a combined 7-3, on the heels of getting routed in their last home game, 6-3, by Carolina. 

Washington has not won since the trade that sent then-captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus for winger Jason Chimera.

The Caps have not suffered four consecutive regulation losees since Nov. 2007, which triggered the move to bring in coach Bruce Boudreau.

Montreal lost Sunday, 1-0 to Buffalo, but has won their previous two games, over Florida and Tampa Bay.

Semyon Varlamov, who was sent to AHL Hershey to get back into playing shape, instead reinjured himself Sunday in a 4-1 win for Hershey and will miss perhaps another two weeks.

Nicklas Backstrom, who left the L.A. game with a migraine, practiced yesterday and should be available for the game with Montreal.  Alexnader Semin missed practice with an undisclosed injury, but pronounced himself fine for the game.

The teams have split two games this season.  Montreal won 3-2 in D.C. Nov. 19 and the Caps returned the favor, winning in Montreal 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 27.