KANATA, Ontario -- The Washington Capitals defeated Ottawa, 4-2, last night, but found the going difficult in their first appearance at the Palladium, the Senators' new, $270 million arena.
Veteran Dale Hunter positioned himself near the far post of the Ottawa goal with 7:20 gone in the third period, and his longtime line mate, Kelly Miller, found him there for the tap-in that broke a tie and turned out to be the game-winner.
Steve Konowalchuk gave the team some breathing room with another goal with 7:38 to play as Washington rallied from a two-goal deficit to win.
"We didn't get a good start," said Hunter. "But give us credit for coming back."
The team was to fly back to Washington last night to await the arrival of the New York Islanders at USAir Arena for a game tomorrow night at 7:30.
Asked about the team's continuing propensity for waiting until the other team has a lead before coming to life, coach Jim Schoenfeld is trying a lighter touch.
"We kind of like it," he said, with a wink. "It's dramatic, gives us something to look forward to in the second and third periods."
Then Schoenfeld got serious:
"We've tried to shake it up but it's getting, I wouldn't say comical, because it's not that funny. I really don't know what to say about it. There have been times when we've played poorly and fallen behind and times when we've played extremely well and fallen behind. But you have to factor in the kinds of games we've had. Tonight, I thought we had a pretty good first period and after their second goal, our guys strengthened their resolve and dug in."
The victory was a nice rebound for Washington and goalie Jim Carey, who lost, 5-3, at Montreal on Wednesday night, and gives the Caps three wins in their past four games.
Playing in front of 12,322, the smallest crowd at the Palladium in its two weeks of operation, the Caps improved their all-time record against Ottawa to 9-1-2. The Senators have the worst record in the NHL.
"When we got down 2-0, everyone just felt, 'Hey, we just have to fight back,' " said Craig Berube, Washington's left wing. "I think we worry too much about scoring. I think we talk too much about finding a goal scorer. New Jersey won the Stanley Cup last year without scoring too many goals. When we just settle down and play the game, we do well."
In fact, Schoenfeld said, comebacks appear to be what his Caps are all about.
"Our identity is that we stay the course," Schoenfeld said. "We've stayed the course through injured players, through contract holdouts, through a losing streak, and we stay the course when we're losing early. And if our guys stay the course and play the kind of hockey we have to play to win, more often than not we pull it out.
"There is never a situation with this group of players where we think the game is unattainable, unless the opponent has a real big lead. It wasn't a real big lead, but it was certainly a little daunting."
Ottawa scored with 2:50 left in the first period on defenseman Frank Musil's first goal of the season. And then the Senators made it 2-0 on Steve Duchesne's power play goal just 29 seconds into the second.
It took a power-play goal by the Caps' Michal Pivonka and an even-strength one by Keith Jones just to get back to square one in the second period and set the stage for Hunter.
NOTES: Caps radio play-by-play man Ron Weber, who loves game statistics, came up with a fascinating one last night. Washington has allowed its opponent to score the first goal of the game on one of its first three shots a total of 23 times in 50 games this season. . . . Pat Peake was scratched again last night because of illness and shoulder pain. . . . The Caps got their first look at the Senators' arena and decided everything was fine except the floor in the locker room. No carpet. That bit of decorating met with a reception chilly enough to match the one the concrete floor gave their bare feet.