WASHINGTON - Scolded one night earlier for their sluggish performance in the first period of yet another loss, the Washington Capitals made amends with a blistering start against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Nicklas Backstrom and Jeff Schultz scored a minute apart to give Washington the early lead as the Capitals got two goals from Mike Green in a 6-3 victory Saturday night.
Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist for Washington, which quickly fell behind 2-0 on Friday night in New Jersey. After that defeat, coach Bruce Boudreau lashed out at the players for their listless play in the early going.
Just under 24 hours later, the Capitals proved they were good listeners.
Washington went up 1-0 at 8:12 of the first period when Backstrom stole a clearing pass from Atlanta's Niclas Havelid and drilled a wrist shot past goalie Kari Lehtonen. Exactly 60 seconds later, Schultz fired a shot from the top of the left circle that soared over the left shoulder of the screened Lehtonen and into the net.
"We had a lot of energy. We talked about passion today, and I thought they played with a lot of passion," Boudreau said. "When you get that first goal, it illuminates the bench. For whatever reason, they feel stronger."
Especially because the Capitals are 1-12-2 when the opposition scores first.
"There's no secret. You need to get off to a fast start; we didn't yesterday and were behind the eight-ball early," goalie Olaf Kolzig said. "Tonight, we took the initiative. We went out and got the lead. As a result, everybody got a little more confident, started feeling good about themselves and we got six goals."
Washington's previous four games were decided by one goal. It was only the second time the Capitals scored as many as six; the other was in a 7-1 rout of Toronto on Oct. 29.
Matt Pettinger scored his second goal for Washington, and Backstrom had two assists. Although the Capitals still have the fewest wins (10) and points (22) in the NHL, they're 4-3-1 under Boudreau, who took over for the fired Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22 after the Capitals turned in a shoddy performance in a 5-1 loss to Atlanta.
Todd White had two goals for the Thrashers, who were seeking to move two games over .500 for the first time this season. It was the only time in five games this month that Atlanta failed to earn a point.
"They were a better team. They jumped on us quickly," coach Don Waddell said. "They played much more desperate than we did."
In assessing his team's performance, Waddell sounded much like Boudreau one night earlier.
"I wouldn't say this was one of our better efforts," Waddell said. "When the other team is working harder, sometimes it makes you feel like you're working less."
Waddell wasn't alone in his perception of the Thrashers' effort.
"It seemed like from the moment the puck dropped, they were outworking us," defenceman Tobias Enstrom said. "It was almost like we didn't want it, and we were taking the easy way out. They won all their battles and we didn't show up."
Early in the second period, Kolzig repelled successive close shots by Steve McCarthy and Pascal Dupuis before Eric Perrin missed an open net.
Seconds later, Pettinger slammed in the rebound of a shot by Ovechkin for a 3-0 lead. Lehtonen was knocked down by teammate Jim Slater as the puck went into the net, and not long after that, a shot by Alexander Semin ripped the mask off Lehtonen's face.
Atlanta cashed in on a five-on-three advantage at 12:31 of the period, closing to 3-1 when White scored off a centring pass from Marian Hossa.
Ovechkin restored the three-goal cushion at 14:06 with his 21st goal of the season, and 69 seconds later Green made it 5-1.
"It was a great way to answer back. That's probably the most impressive thing we did," Boudreau said.
After Green scored in the third period, White and Bobby Holik tallied for Atlanta.