Capitals Pound Punchless Senators 5-1
Alexander Ovechkin scored two goals to lead the Capitals to a 5-1 win against the Senators during an NHL game at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC on December 12, 2008. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box File photo
WASHINGTON, DC--For the last couple of weeks, the Washington Capitals have been playing short-handed, missing up to nine players from their opening night roster.  But the last two games have seen the return of defenseman Tom Poti, left winger Alexander Semin, center Sergei Federov and defenseman Mike Green.
Friday night, the Caps' offensive attack picked up from where it was before all the injuries as Washington steamrolled the offensively challenged Ottawa Senators 5-1.

Alex Ovechkin led the hit parade with two goals, Green had a goal and an assist, while Federov and Niklas Backstrom had three assists apiece in dominating a completely overwhelmed Ottawa team.

Goalie Brent Johnson had another stellar game as well, recording 32 saves on his way to his ninth win of the season, his most since the 2005-2006 season.

But the story of the night was Johnson's back-up.

Washington goalie Jose Theodore injured his hip flexor during the morning skate and the Caps found themselves down a goalie. The player they wanted to recall, 20-year old phenom Simeon Varlamov of the AHL Hershey Bears, happened to be in transit to a road game in San Antonio, Texas. The Caps arranged to get him on a flight that would have him landing at Reagan National Airport at 7:00 p.m. -- gametime.

So until Varlamov could get to the arena and dressed, the Caps suited up 26-year old website producer Brett "Stretch" Leonhard.

Leonhardt has worked for the Caps' website for about a year, but his hidden talent is goaltending.  He played Division III hockey at Neumann College, and occasionally takes shots during practice when one of the team's goalies is nursing an injury.  But nothing could have prepared him for General Manager George McPhee dropping by his cubicle and telling him, "Be ready."

Ready Leonhardt was, and he dressed for pre-game skate and was on the bench at the start of the game.  "Every dream come true," Leonhardt said. "Growing up in Canada, playing since I was 4. It was just very surreal. It was a blur, went by real quick."

Varlamov was able to reach Verizon Center mid-way though the first period and he relieved Leonhardt on the bench.  The 20-year old may very well make his NHL debut Saturday night against Montreal.  Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that he would not be reluctant to get Varlamov in there should Johnson's achy hip flame up.

Semin started the scoring in the first period, taking a feed from Backstrom and sliding a nifty back-hander behind Ottawa goalie Alex Auld.  The Caps then proceeded to score four more times, with Brooks Laich scoring from the high slot on a slap shot, Ovechkin with a bomb from the blue line, and Green and Ovechkin scoring nearly identical shots from the face-off circle on power plays less than a minute apart in the third period.
 
Washington definitely had spring in their steps this evening, and Boudreau singled out veteran Federov in his post-game comments.  "Sometimes when you get up there in hockey age and you're out for awhile you realize how much you miss the game," Boudreau said. "I think he was very excited to play, very excited to get back. He was vociferous. He was really loud on the bench, complimentary and encouraging to everybody tonight."
 
So from the player on the team with the most NHL experience, to the team's website producer-turned-back-up goalie, to the other players returning from injury, it was hard to tell who was more excited to play.  No wonder The Hockey News called the Capitals "The League's Most Exciting Team."