WASHINGTON - It was a two-on-one counterattack, coming off a strong defensive play at 1:32 of the second period, and Washington right wing Peter Bondra was in control. The puck was on his stick as he and Jeff Halpern charged hard toward the New York Islanders' net.
"I'm going to give it to you," Bondra yelled.
"No, no! You shoot," Halpern yelled back.
On his 35th birthday, Bondra had a surprise of his own.
"You have to make the goalie think there is another player," Bondra said last night in a 3-0 Caps win.
Islanders goalie Garth Snow kept his eyes on Bondra as long as he could, but Bondra continued to look at Halpern and, eventually, so did Snow (21 saves). That was all the opening Bondra needed.
"I looked at Halpy and turned my stick a little and that made the goalie turn just a little and I found a little bit of a hole to put one in," he said.
The Capitals, with Olie Kolzig minding their net, went on to a shutout that pleased just about everyone in the Capitals' locker room.
For the Islanders, who have beaten the Capitals just once in the past 26 games dating to March 2, 1997, it was devastating. The Caps also have a 14-game home unbeaten streak against the Islanders.
Washington, 26-20-7-3, increased its Southeast Division lead over idle Tampa Bay to six points. The Caps will play host to the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night.
"If we play like that, we're going to beat a lot of good teams," said Kolzig, who made 20 saves for his second shutout this season and 29th of his career. "We addressed that. That we have to play better defense at certain times of the game and tonight, we really suffocated them."
The tide turned early for the Islanders. New York's Michael Peca felt a shift less than two minutes into the game. He was on the ice for Bondra's goal and Halpern's empty-netter on an assist from Bondra - "I owed him one," he said.
"Every game has a story," said Peca, brushing off the Islanders' streak of losses to the Capitals. "In the first minute and a half of this one, Kolzig made a pretty big save on [Roman] Hamrlik. We had a great chance there, but that's what goalies do. And then we lost our composure. We didn't give them a power-play goal, but the delayed penalty allowed [Jaromir] Jagr to get off the shot that went in off [Steve] Konowalchuk for their first goal, and then the Bondra goal really hurt us. When you're down by one, you think you have a pretty good chance of coming back, but then came Bondra's goal and that really hurt us."
The Caps have given away a number of leads this season, the most recent one Wednesday night to the New Jersey Devils in a 4-1 loss. After that game, veteran members of the team discussed the need to play smarter hockey while protecting a lead. Last night, the Capitals followed through.
"It was our game plan," said Konowalchuk, who was in front of the crease when Jagr's shot bounced from his shoulder to his knee and then ricocheted into the net for a 1-0 lead. "It was defense, defense. You know, we let down against Jersey, but not tonight. Part of good defense is cycling the puck down low and making them work hard to get it back. We did that for 60 minutes."
The only discordant sound was made by the Caps' power play, which went 0-for-5.
N.Y. Islanders 0 0 0 - 0
Washington 1 1 1 - 3
First period - 1, Washington, Konowalchuk 12 (Jagr, Kwiatkowski), 9:43. Penalties - Scatchard, NYI (holding stick), 3:29; N.Y. Islanders bench, served by Asham (too many men), 5:48; Butenschon, NYI (interference), 11:38; Blake, NYI (roughing), 13:43. Second period - 2, Washington, Bondra 22 (Halpern, Konowalchuk), 1:38. Penalties - Yashin, NYI (tripping), 5:04; Klee, Was (tripping), 13:30. Third period - 3, Washington, Halpern 7 (Bondra, Klee), 19:53 (en). Penalty-Jagr, Was (holding), 7:59. Shots on goal - N.Y. Islanders 4-6-10-20. Washington 6-10-8-24. Power-play opportunities - N.Y. Islanders 0 of 2; Washington 0 of 5. Goalies - N.Y. Islanders, Snow 5-9-1 (23 shots-21 saves). Washington, Kolzig 22-15-5 (20-20). A - 16,964 (18,277). T-2:17.