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Ten years ago, on January 5, 2010, the Capitals were set to play the Montreal Canadiens at home. They had been riding a three-game losing streak that started after trading their captain, Chris Clark, to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals had lost to Carolina at home and then lost on the road to the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.
Their record was 24-11-6, with 54 standings points. They led the Southeast Division, were third in the Eastern Conference (two points behind the Buffalo Sabres and five points behind the New Jersey Devils) and were fifth in the entire NHL. The Canadiens had a record of 21-20-3, with 45 standings points.
Since the trade of Clark, speculation surrounding the team’s leadership centered around who would be the 14th player to wear the captain’s “C” patch. The team had seemed somewhat rudderless after the trade and the fact that Clark was traded during the afternoon between the morning skate and a game that night came as a shock to the players.
Then-Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and then-General Manager George McPhee said the team planned to take its time settling on a new captain, wanting to make the right choice.
Many thought that longtime Alternate captain and franchise face Alex Ovechkin should be named captain, but there were others that considered dependable forward Brooks Laich as the best choice. Others felt Mike Knuble, a well-respected veteran acquired in free agency before the season, should be the choice.
Ovechkin had been offered the captaincy three years earlier but at that time, he felt his command of the English language wasn’t good enough, in addition to the fact he was only 21-years-old at the time. The 2004 first overall pick was now 24 and more mature.
A Captain is Announced
The report from the team was that the new captain would be announced prior to the team’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens, however there was no fanfare surrounding the announcement.
As was typical during warmups, Ovechkin skated onto the ice after the starting goaltender of the night, Michal Neuvirth. As was also typical, the Jay-Z song, ”Encore”, was playing.
The difference was that this time Ovechkin had the “C” stitched onto the left chest of his jersey instead of the customary “A” that he had donned for the previous three years. The jumbo-tron above center ice showed Ovechkin, with the caption: “Alex Ovechkin Named 14th Captain in Team History.”
Applause slowly spread through the arena as fans took notice of Ovechkin’s new status. The Capitals showed a video of Ovechkin putting on his jersey with the Captain’s logo and also showed a video showing each of the previous 13 captains of the Capitals.
When his name was announced as part of the starting lineup, the fans applauded louder as Public Address Announcer Wes Johnson announced, “And at left wing, your captain, Alex Ovechkin”, signifying the start of a new era in leadership.
Ovechkin had received the news that Monday and on Tuesday, the rest of the team was informed.
The Caps aimed a lot of shots on goal during the first period but were unable to dent the twine. The game was scoreless heading into the first intermission.
Unlike the first period, there was plenty of scoring during the second period. Just over three minutes into the period, Jaroslav Spacek was called with a hooking penalty, giving the Caps a power play. The man-advantage was about to expire when Tomas Fleischmann scored his 15th goal of the year at the 5:14 mark, to put the home team ahead by one.
Josh Gorges tied the game nearly nine minutes later (at 14:03) when he scored for Montreal. The Capitals responded within the next two minutes (at 15:45), as Eric Fehr scored his 10th goal of the year, on assists by Laich and Mike Green, to put the Caps ahead by one.
Semin scored his 15th goal of the season less than two minutes later, getting assists from Tom Poti and Tomas Fleischmann, to pull the hosts ahead by two. As Semin scored a goal, a scrum took place between players on both teams, with Scott Gomez and Maxim Lapierre of Montreal and Tom Poti of the Caps all earning roughing penalties, although the Capitals did not score on the ensuing power play. The score stood at 3-1 in favor of the Caps heading into second intermission.
The 3-1 score remained the same until about midway through the third period. Knuble had been called for a holding penalty, and Benoit Pouliot scored less than a minute later (at 11:10) on the subsequent power play.
Knuble took another penalty at 13:30, which the Caps managed to kill off. Semin scored an insurance goal at 17:58, on an assist from Fleischmann, to solidify the win for the home team and their new captain. The final score was 4-2, in favor of the Caps. Of the 26 saves that Neuvirth made, 12 of them came during the third period.
The Capitals ended up winning the first game of Ovechkin’s captaincy. 4-2, despite the fact that the new captain himself had no goals or assists. It was a better night for the second line, featuring two goals by Semin and three assists from newly-minted center, Tomas Fleischmann.
After the game, the Caps’ record stood at 25-11-6, and John Carlson, who was a young defensive prospect for the team, scored the game-winning goal for the USA in Overtime against Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships.
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By Diane Doyle
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