"You know, our fans deserve a better effort than what we've been giving them lately. Tonight we had some rough patches, but I think we played pretty well" -- Matt Bradley 

The Washington Capitals did not play particularly well last night, but they did play well enough to defeat an offensively challenged St. Louis Blues team 3-2, before another sold out crowd at Verizon Center.  Coupled with the last minute heroics against the Islanders Tuesday, it's the first time the Caps have won back-to-back home games since their last two in November.

As Bruce Boudreau said, "They're all important." But these four points, heading into a statement weekend in Florida were especially big.  The Panthers are absolutely reeling on the heels of their latest fire-sale, and with Tampa Bay's loss to Boston Thursday night, the Caps are behind Tampa and Pittsburgh by a single point for third and fourth place in the conference.

If the Caps can take care of business Sunday against the Panthers, it will set up a battle for first place in the division Monday night in Tampa.

But the Caps had to take care of home ice first, and for a while things looked pretty sketchy.  Of course, nothing has come easy for these Capitals in this campaign.

A sluggish first period saw both teams fight with bad passing and little cohesion.  Midway through though, St. Louis counter-attacked and Alex Steen beat a lagging Nick Backstrom through the Caps zone to tap in a very nice pass from Chris Stewart and take a 1-0 lead.

With just a minute to go in the period, Matt Bradley decided to take matters into his own hands, and went right after defenseman Tyson Strachan.  Strachan did not back down, but perhaps he wishes he would have, as Bradley pounded him with three right hands, the final an uppercut that sent Strachan to the ice. 

Bradley's effort at least brought some energy to the arena, which was almost as dead as the team on the ice at that point.

"We got down a goal there and I just tried to get the guys going a bit," Bradley stated rather nonchalantly in the locker room after the game.

His teammates took notice though, as he was awarded the Hard Hat for the night.

For the remainder of the game, the Caps played hard at least, if not well the entire time.

The teams traded second period goals, by defensman Scott Hannan and the Blues B.J. Crombeen, before the Caps took control of the game in the third.  Nick Backstrom knocked in a puck out of mid-air baseball style to tie the game at two, and Jason Arnott scored the game-winner with just over five minutes left off a beautiful feed from Alex Semin, on The Enigma's 27th birthday.

It's the type of play we really haven't seen out of Semin for quite some time.  Coming into the game, he'd scored in just four of his ten games since returning from injury, with just two assists in that time frame.  But breaking in on a two-on-one, he settled the puck and put it right on Arnott's tape.  All Arnott had to do was finish.

Boudreau was particularly impressed with the way Arnott swung out a little wide anticipating Semin's feed.  "When Semin gave him a really good pass, [Arnott] didn't have to make a play, he just had to shoot the puck because he was already in a shooting position, which I thought was really good to see."

"We're talking a lot on the bench, even with Sash -- we're talking to him and he's talking to us," Arnott explained about the chemistry he's quickly developing with his new linemates.  "It's important to communicate to find out where and how guys are when they play around the rink.  We keep that up hopefully our chemistry will keep going."

The importance of winning these two games and gaining four points heading into a showdown weekend, especially since this is also the annual "father's trip", was not lost on the room. 

"Seems that every game we play is a big game," Bradley said.  "Obviously we're chasing Tampa right now and we have a good chance, first with Florida then Tampa.  Bruce and the coaches talked about it -- a snowball effect -- getting on a little bit of a roll going into the weekend.  We have our fathers coming for the father's trip, so it makes for a good mood starting the weekend out."

"We want to get back to making this a tough place to play," Scott Hannan said, reveling in his first goal as a Washington Capital.

"It's good for our confidence," said Nicklas Backstrom.  "We haven't been winning a lot at home lately, so hopefully we gave our fans something good tonight.  Hopefully we can continue working on this and get more Ws."

Arnott spoke about that elusive confidence as well.  "It's always nice to get confidence going, get on a roll before you go on the road.  You can't take Florida lightly and Tampa's got a fantastic team.  It's going to be another battle again."

Boudreau was a little more big-picture. 

"They're all important.  So how important is it?  Boy, I was thinking all day 'I'd like to win'.  But in the whole scheme of things we won't know how important it is until the end of the season.  It's so important to get to that 80-point level and with the teams above you, now you can see [them].  It's not like you're a big distance away, so it was good to get to there."

With two wins, the Caps have set the table.  Now let's see if they can clear the plates this weekend.

Every win, every game, every shift is important from here on out.


3. Michal Neuvirth.  Kept his team in the game until the offense clicked.  He could do nothing with either goal, and he turned away all four shots he saw on the penalty kill.
2. Karl Alzner.  Blocked four shots and I'll say this as politely as possible: He carried his partner tonight.
1. Dennis Wideman.  I know he didn't figure into the story, but he was all over the ice tonight, clearly the Caps best player.  He led the team in ice time for the second consecutive game and finished with five hits and two blocks.  He also led an effective power play -- for the first time in weeks -- though they still did not score.

CAPS NOTES:  Matt Hendricks dished out five hits and won the puck in the corner, leading to Hannan's goal.

Alex Ovechkin registered just one shot on goal but had two assists.

The Capitals improved to 18-16-4 when allowing the first goal of the game.

Arnott's goal puts him at 899 points in his career.

The Caps are 30-0-3 when the score three or more goals.

If you still haven't had enough of the activity surrounding the 2011 NHL trade deadline and the impact the acquisitions GM George McPhee made for the Washington Capitals, check out 106.7 The Fan's Caps Trade Deadline Special.

We were invited to participate, as were fellow bloggers and media members John Keeley from On Frozen Blog, Ted Starkey from The Washington Times, Brian McNally from the Washington Examiner and Ed Frankovic from WNST Baltimore.

Our spot is at 1:20 of the show, but the whole thing is worth the listen.  There's some real valuable insight to be gleaned from the varied and knowledgable independent voices that cover the Caps.

Double Overtime is hosted by Sky Kerstein and J Brooks for The Fan.  Many thanks to them for the invite to participate.

Jason Arnott in his Washington Capitals debut. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Jason Arnott, acquired at the trade deadline to help spur the Washington Capitals as they head down the stretch, said some things from the locker room last night that were very interesting, considering it was his first game with his new team. 

He addressed the topic of his linemates tonight: Brooks Laich and especially Alexander Semin. He talked about the Caps struggles on the power play. He talked about the challenges developing chemistry with his new teammates. And he talked about being responsible in the defensive end and in the neutral zone.

This locker room has perhaps grown a bit too comfortable with the status quo, and maybe GM George McPhee was looking for someone like Arnott -- a Stanley Cup winner and former team captain -- to mix things up a bit, to provide a little bit of gravitas.  If that was an unstated goal, it paid off right from Arnott's first game.

Arnott, 36, is nearing the end of a long, distinguished career and his play isn't what it used to be.  But perhaps his attitude will help this Washington Capitals team as much -- if not more than -- his play on the ice.

Here's a transcription of his session with the assembled media.  You'll recognize the very good parts on your own.

Q: You had a lot of chances early on and cashed in on a big one late and almost again in OT.
A: Yeah, we found a way tonight. We had way too many turnovers. We allowed them to come in and if it wasn't for our goaltending it would have been a different story. But we still had chances in the other end as well, the puck just didn't go in.

Q: This is the first time you've had to chance teams in mid-season in a while, what was this experience like compared to before?
A: It's a little different. Obviously playing with new guys and getting to know how they're playing out there. Getting to know how I play, I thought we moved it around pretty well. The chemistry was there. You know, with Brooksy and playing with Semin, it's very skilled guys that can do a lot of damage in the offensive zone, so I think if we take care of our own zone and the neutral zone a lot better we wouldn't have been in that situation.

Q: You played against the Caps several times this year. it's no secret they've been struggling on offense and the power play. Where can you chip in?
A: I think just working on it and going over the video, and then it just comes down to execution. I mean, just making solid passes, getting in the zone and setting it up and shooting pucks. I think there's so much talent on this team that they move it around a lot instead of just pounding it at the net. You know, a lot of the times that's the way it goes in. If we concentrate on the net a little bit more and talk about it and then execute it we should be alright.

Q: How about the chemistry with guys you haven't had a chance to practice with?
A: I thought it was pretty good. It's tough with new guys, you always want to try and read off of them and see what they do. You know, the talent that Semin has is ridiculous out there with the puck -- just phenomenal plays. And Brooksie just works hard and has great hands. So if we can just combine each other and read off of each other, hopefully we'll be successful.

Q: Does it take any extra adjustment to play with a guy like Semin who's known to freelance?
A: A little bit. I think for the most part it's talking to him as much as possible. I don't think too many guys talk to him and get him into the play and try and see what he's going to do and what you're going to do and little things like that. So if I can do that and it helps out our line that's what I've got to do.

Q: Did it install confidence in you that your new coach put you out there first in overtime?
A: Yeah. It was great, with our firepower, to go out there first against them. It showed a lot of confidence in us and we had a chance to score, so it was good.

"It's extremely disappointing to lose it in the last 47 seconds.  We battled so hard for 59 minutes.  To come away with just one point in unacceptable."  --New York Islanders goalie Nathan Lawson, who came into the game with a save percentage under 89 percent.

The Washington Capitals got out of the gate early and dominated the first ten minutes of the game with a lineup infused with three significant additions brought in by General Manager George McPhee at the trade deadline.  At one point they led in shots 10-1.

They looked like a different team than the one we've seen slogging their way through the schedule since Dec. 1.

But when they couldn't find the back of the net after the early onslaught, the Caps fell back into the same bad habits that have them looking up at four teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference:  bad passing, sloppy turnovers, avoidance of the opposing crease, and the nauseating habit of being satisfied with pelting the other team's goalie with 30 foot slap shots without any traffic to speak of.

For that 49 minute stretch, the Caps played as bad as they have all season against a young, underwhelming Islanders team and rookie goalie that, despite his quote of bravado above, is not even in the same league talent-wise as his opponent.

But then, with 48 seconds remaining, it all changed.

Newly acquired center Jason Arnott collected a puck behind the Islanders' goal and fed Brooks Laich where he makes his money, and with a simple flick reversed the Caps fortunes, sending the game to overtime.

"He [Jason Arnott] just threw it in front and found the guy [Brooks Laich]," Lawson said. "I don't know if he was tied up or not but he just put it over my pad."

"I saw Brooksy going to the net and just tried to slide it to him," Arnott said.  "It went to him and he made a great play and put it in."

It really was that simple.

At that point, all that was left was for Alex Ovechkin to do what only he can do, racing the length of the ice, twisting Franz Neilsen inside out twice, and backhanding a shot past Nathan Lawson to send the Verizon crowd into hysterics.
It was Ovechkin's ninth game-winning goal this season.

So coach Bruce Boudreau, was this game important for your team's morale?  "I thought it was very important.  We scored one goal in 11 periods at home [the last four games].  It's important to get the idea that teams can't come into this building and win so easily."

Maybe Lawson was thinking about how easy his first 38 saves were to concentrate on the last few.

The Caps leaned heavily on Arnott, their new second line center.  Just in his first game tonight, you can see he's a leader, in the words that he uses and the way he plays.  And though Boudreau said there was no extra significance that Arnott and Laich took the first shift in overtime, dismissing the question by saying, "I'm not that deep," it certainly meant something to Arnott.

"It was great, with our firepower, to go out there first," Arnott explained.  "It showed a lot of confidence in us and we had a chance to score, so it was good."

"We found a way tonight.  We had way too many turnovers.  We allowed them to come in and if it wasn't for our goaltending it would have been a different story."

He's right there.  All too often, Michal Neuvirth was left to fend for himself. "Every turnover, they had an odd-man rush.  That's the game I don't like to play, but that's what it is sometimes."

"I'm just focusing on my game and trying to stop every shot and hoping that the guys are going to get one  or two in and that's what we did tonight," Neuvirth said.  "It's a huge win for us.  It's good to win for our fans."

Those demanding fans that booed as loud as they have all season at the floundering power play erupted twice in a period of a few minutes as Laich tied the game and Ovechkin sealed the deal.

But the Capitals this season are a game-to-game process, and we'll all just have to wait until Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues to see which Caps team shows up.


3.  Alex Ovechkin.  His own coach thought he "looked lethargic", but the last goal was "vintage Alex" and that he "rose to the right moment."  Scored the game winner and assisted on the tying goal.
2.  Jason Arnott.  In the right place at the right time all night long. He's a huge addition to this club.
1. Michal Neuvirth.  The Caps simply would not have been in this game were it not for their No. 1 goaltender.  There, I said it.


Marco Sturm in his Caps debut. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Jason Arnott in his Caps debut. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Jason Arnott taks a draw against the Islanders. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Dennis Wideman in his Caps debut. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

"We're really happy with what we've acquired.  We've addressed specific needs that we had and they're all good, experienced veteran players." -GM George McPhee.

The Washington Capitals -- as expected -- were busy at the trade deadline, acquiring center Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils and defenseman Dennis Wideman from their division-rival Florida Panthers.  Both moves address positions of need for the Caps that have plagued this team all season.

Arnott, 36, waived a no-trade clause to join the Caps for the stretch run and his contract expires at the end of the season.  Arnott told the Newark Star-Ledger:
"I'm at the end of my career. I want a chance at another Stanley Cup. I think Washington has a good potential to be a Cup team."
In exchange for Arnott, the Capitals had to move fan favorite David Steckel and a second round pick in 2012.  The Caps 2011 second rounder belongs to Carolina in last season's Joe Corvo deal.

Arnott has 13 goals and 11 assists in 62 games, playing to a minus-9 rating with the Devils this season.  He had not scored in the Devils last eight games, a strange coincidence with their 7-1 run during that time frame.

Wideman, 27, is a puck-moving defenseman who had 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) with Florida this year.  He still has another year on his deal and complicates the salary structure, but brings a solid two-way game to D.C.

GM George McPhee surrendered his third round pick in the 2011 draft and ECHL forward Jake Hauswirth to acquire Wideman.

In addition to the waiver wire claim Saturday of winger Marco Sturm (32), the Capitals have added a strong veteran presence to an extremely young NHL locker room.  The Caps have been playing with six full-time rookies in positions where playoff teams usually have veteran leaders, and the mixed results have shown why these deals needed to take place.

Centers Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are both very talented young players, but they've barely combined for as many assists this season than the veteran Arnott brings at the tail end of his lengthy playing career.

Defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner are both extremely talented rookies -- but they are still rookies.  Neither one have played a season this long, logging this many minutes, in this type of spotlight.  Wideman takes some of the heat off these players, especially with Mike Green and Tom Poti's injury status clouding the blue line situation.

All three players acquired bring "two-way" reputations, with Sturm and Wideman expected to provide a boost to the moribund power play which has struggled all season long.

Bottom line: the Caps bring in Arnott, Sturm and Wideman for Steckel, an ECHL forward, and second and third round draft picks in two different years.

"I thought we did really well in that regard," McPhee said.  "We did not give away a first round pick, we did not give away any of our "A" prospects."

It's a significant change to this Washington Capitals roster.

No, none of these three players are all-star caliber talent.  But they are dependable, NHL veterans in positions where they were relying on rookies. 

McPhee explained:  "We've got a young group as we all know, and we [acquired] guys that have been around a long time.  Especially with Arnott, who's been a captain of an NHL team, he's won a cup, and those kinds of intangibles I think are something that we wanted in the room."

The Caps rolled the dice last off-season not acquiring a legitimate second line center, hoping that Tomas Fleischmann would seize the opportunity.  When Flash was dealt to Colorado for Scott Hannan, ending that experiment, the Caps had no other place to turn but 20-year old rookie Johansson and tweener Perreault.

Johansson has had flashes of brilliance, but he is still learning the North American game.  Perreault is just too small to play 2C in the NHL.  The Caps have -- at least temporarily -- addressed their biggest concern heading into the playoffs.

So no blockbuster at the trade deadline, but McPhee identified and addressed three positions of need for the Capitals without decimating either his NHL roster, nor surrendering any of his top prospects.  Whether it's enough to vault the Caps into legitimate contenders will be determined in the weeks to come.

But no one can say McPhee didn't try.

CAPS NOTES:  McPhee confirmed that Jay Beagle and D.J. King will remain with the Caps for the rest of the season and will not be reassigned to AHL Hershey this season.

McPhee also noted that Tom Poti and Eric Fehr were placed on Long Term Injured List, retroactive to their last games, and both would be eligible to return when they were healthy.  The moves were necessary to make the Capitals compliant with the NHL salary cap with the additions to the team.

Also, McPhee expects the Caps to be very cautious working Mike Green back into the lineup, expecting Green to be out a  "couple weeks" after he returns from his grandmother's funeral in Calgary.  Green is out of the lineup with a head injury, and McPhee confirmed Green has been suffering headaches since being elbowed in the head by Rangers forward Derek Stepan last week.

The Washington Capitals earlier today traded for puck-moving defenseman Dennis Wideman, formerly of the Florida Panthers, in exchange for minor league forward Jake Hauswirth and their 2011 third round pick.

Wideman, 27, has 33 points (9 goals, 24 assists) this year for the Panthers in 61 games.  He will wear No. 6 for the Caps.

The veteran defender gives the Caps another two-way defenseman and shores up a depleted blue line, with Tom Poti still unavailable for play and Mike Green out at least another week with his head/ear injury and now back home in Calgary attending his grandmother's funeral.

Asked if Wideman was acquired because of those circumstances, Coach Bruce Boudreau replied, "It means we don't know and this is the last day [for trades]," Boudreau said. "Even if we have both of those guys, [General Manager] George [McPhee] makes a great pick in getting Dennis."

PRACTICE UPDATES:  D.J. King has cleared waivers, but his status is still unknown.  Boudreau said the team had "no plans" at the time to send him to AHL Hershey should he clear waivers, but with the team over the cap limit for now with the addition of Wideman, there still has to be some moving parts as we quickly approach the 3:00 pm trade deadline.

F Eric Fehr participated fully in today's practice, testing out his injured shoulder.  He is taking things "practice to practice", and still does not have a timetable for his return.

C David Steckel left practice early triggering speculation, but team sources said he "tweaked" something and his status is uncertain.

After a hectic day of waiver claims, roster shuffling, mysterious injuries and healthy scratches, the Washington Capitals actually took care of business, shrugging off a lackadaisical first period and storming back from a 2-0 deficit to knock off a young, energetic New York Islanders crew 3-2 before 16,250 at Nassau County Colosseum, the Islanders' biggest home crowd of the season.

There were plenty of Capitals fans in attendance, as the official fan club and a group from a local pub joined in the festivities on the Island.

The Capitals completed their comeback with three straight goals, capped by Alexander Semin's 22nd of the year at 5:41 of the third period. 

Mike Knuble backhanded a short pass from Brooks Laich to tie the game just three minutes before, and Laich got the Caps on the board mid-way through the second, slipping a wrister through the five-hole of Islanders goalie Max Montoya.

Michal Neuvirth made 29 saves for the win, his 19th of the season.

Coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout early in the second period shortly after New York went up 2-0, and he had a message to get across.

"Quite frankly, I was telling them 'we stink', and that we were being embarrassed by a bunch of 22 and 23-year olds.  And we were.  We were lucky, up to that point, that it wasn't five-nothing."

Boudreau was 100 percent correct.  Were it not for Neuvirth's stellar play in the first period, we could have seen a repeat of Friday night's debacle.  But the rookie netminder kept his club in the game until the rest of his teammates could shake the funk and find the net against Montoya, one of six goalies the Islanders have used this season.

It was a big two points for the Caps on the road, coming on the heels of a terrible performance against the Rangers Friday.  It pulls Washington back within three of division-leading Tampa Bay and allows them to keep pace four points behind fourth place in the conference Pittsburgh, who were overtime winners over Toronto last night.

The rally capped an eventful day for the team, as roster moves came with a flurry early in the day, and the intrigue continued right up to puck drop, both on the Island and in Hershey, home of the Caps AHL affiliate Hershey.

Washington first made a waiver claim on 13-year veteran left winger Marco Sturm, left available by the Los Angeles Kings.  The speedy, two-way forward was left unprotected as the NHL speeds toward the 3:00 pm Monday trade deadline.  Injured most of the season, if now healthy Sturm could provide some needed pop on the second unit, and has been a valuable penalty killer for his teams in the past as well.

To make room from Sturm, forward D. J. King was placed on waivers.  The pugilist never really fit in with coach Bruce Boudreau's system, but should he clear waivers would report to Hershey in a support role.  To fill out last night's lineup with King off the roster, Jay Beagle was recalled from the Bears.  He skated 17 shifts for 10:27 TOI, had one shot on goal and registered two hits.

As if that weren't enough, goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled from the morning pre-game skate with a lower body injury and was replaced by ECHL journeyman Todd Ford on the roster.  Ford made his NHL debut -- backing up Neuvirth -- wearing No. 40, Varlamov's old number.

But the most intriguing developments of the day had to involve a pair of players that did not take the ice last night.

Center Mathieu Perreault (7-7-14, -3) was sent out to Hershey in the roster manipulations, but was not on the AHL squad's active roster, and according to Hershey media, will not play for the affiliate all weekend.  In addition, AHL all-star Andrew Gordon was also left off Hershey's active roster a healthy scratch for their 4-3 win over rival Albany.

Both players' absences from an active roster adds fuel to the speculation that Caps GM George McPhee might be working on a significant deal before Monday's trade deadline. 

The acquisition of Sturm gives the Caps a winger that is capable of providing some punch, but with Nick Backstrom's current finger injury they're as weak down the middle as they have been all season long and could really use the services of a dependable, veteran NHL center-iceman as they come down the stretch.

Also, with Mike Green suffering another blow to the head in the Rangers game and Tom Poti's continued inactivity, the Caps might find themselves in the market for a puck-moving defenseman.

Intriguing questions indeed.

The Caps have struggled for much of the season with scoring and intensity.  We'll know in two days what the ramifications of those struggles are -- for the rest of this campaign, and perhaps how those struggles might impact future efforts as well.