WINNIPEG - The Washington Capitals needed a good start to their road trip. The Winnipeg Jets needed a good finish to their homestand.
Only the Capitals got what they came for.
Washington outlasted Winnipeg 5-4 in a shootout at MTS Centre on Tuesday night, with Martin Erat deciding the game by scoring in the sixth round of the tiebreaker. The win, the Capitals' second in a row, opened a season-long five-game road trip.
But it wasn't easy: Washington blew three one-goal leads, forced Braden Holtby to make 43 saves and had to score three times in the shootout when a miss would have meant a loss. Erat pulled out the win as the fourth consecutive Capital to score in the shootout after Ondrej Pavelec stopped the first two shooters.
"Good on the guys for being resilient and finding a way to win," Washington's Troy Brouwer said, "but there's not a whole lot that I feel we just take out of this game other than continuing to battle."
The Jets got two goals from Bryan Little and finished a six-game homestand with a 2-3-1 mark.
"They played really well," Washington coach Adam Oates said of the Jets. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times when we had leads, especially in the second period. They carried the play."
Washington has endured early-season problems. The Capitals began a road trip that will take them through Western Canada needing to begin establishing consistency after a 3-5-0 start that included six home dates.
"It wasn't our best effort, but we won," said Holtby, who spoke up in the Capitals' dressing room after seeing 20 shots in the second period.
"I think everyone here loves to win," Holtby continued. "I didn't think we were putting enough effort to win the game after the second, and I thought we did a much better job in the third. The guys bailed me out [in the shootout]; it goes both ways. It's not a pretty win, but you need those along the way to give you confidence that you can win even though you don't have your 'A' game."
"I think we got a little too high after the last game," Holtby said of a 4-1 home win Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. "I thought everyone's energy was good, and I thought that probably everyone thought we were going to turn the page. But you just can't do that after one game. You have to consistently do that every game. But we got a win on the start of our road trip, and there is nowhere to go but to [improve]."
Washington had three shutouts in its past five visits to Winnipeg, and Oates started Holtby, who posted two of those shutouts at MTS Centre in a 19-day span last season. Jets coach Claude Noel countered with Pavelec, who made his ninth start of the season and stopped 28 shots through 65 minutes.
The Jets, who've played a League-high eight home games, begin a four-game road trip through the Central Division on Thursday against the Nashville Predators.
After scoring 10 goals in the season's first two games, the Jets managed 12 goals over their next seven before meeting the Capitals. Noel publicly criticized his team's work level Monday after 3-1 loss against the Nashville Predators on Sunday. The players held a team meeting as well.
"The overall game was definitely a lot better than our last game," said Little, who had a two-goal game for the first time since March 20, 2012. "We came in and were ready to work and compete. [The game] was definitely a big step.
"I thought we played a lot better than we have been at home. Maybe that's all we need. The guys chipped in and hopefully the guys can get some confidence going into the road trip, because it's a pretty big one for us."
Noel was looking for a response from his team, and he received it. Along with Little's two goals, captain Andrew Ladd, who had admitted Tuesday morning that he needed to improve his play, had three assists.
"I thought the game was played better from our standpoint," Noel said of his team. "I thought that our leaders did a good job in managing the game. I thought that we did the things we felt necessary to give us a chance to beat this team. I think were a lot of good things in the game for us to build on."
After a scoreless first period, each team scored three times in the second period. Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Capitals before Winnipeg's Little and Grant Clitsome beat Holtby 1:10 apart. But Ovechkin's breakaway goal late in the second period at 15:50 made it 2-2.
Ovechkin then put the Capitals ahead 2:12 later with his League-leading ninth goal in his first nine games. In 54 games against the Winnipeg franchise that was based in Atlanta until 2011, Ovechkin has 40 goals and 40 assists, his best showing against any NHL opponent.
Blake Wheeler, who had managed one goal in his first nine games and was demoted to the second line, answered Ovechkin's goal by scoring with 38.8 seconds remaining in the period.
"Thankfully they didn't score more," Ovechkin said of Winnipeg's attack. "Lots of opportunities, 2-on-1, 3-on-2, breakaways. We can't give a team chances like that."
Washington responded in the third period. Brouwer's power-play goal 4:56 into the period gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead, but Little scored his second goal of the game 2:08 later.
Grabovski put the Capitals up 1-0 with his fourth goal 3:11 into the second period. He peeled away from Jets center Olli Jokinen and backhanded a rebound past Pavelec's glove. The Jets, missing three of their regular penalty-killers, tied it with a shorthanded goal against the NHL's top-ranked power play when a neutral-zone turnover sent Ladd and Little on a 2-on-1 rush. Little fired home the rebound of Ladd's initial shot at 7:21 for the Jets' first shorthanded goal of the season.
Clitsome made it 2-1 with a shot from the right point through a screen that squeezed past Holtby for a 2-1 advantage. But Marcus Johansson found Ovechkin with an outlet pass that split the defense, and Ovechkin turned Pavelec inside-out and tucked home the tying goal with 3:30 left.
Ovechkin scored his second of the night at 18:02, snapping a shot that beat Pavelec off a left-circle draw in the Winnipeg zone. Wheeler replied 1:19 later, batting a puck that eluded Holtby's glove.
Brouwer scored from in-close on the power play at 4:56 before Little snapped a shot from between the circles at 7:04.