Sloppy Start Buries Capitals

Goalie Brent Johnson stops this point-blank shot by New York's Arron Asham. Dainius Zubrus offers help from behind.
Goalie Brent Johnson stops this point-blank shot by New York's Arron Asham. Dainius Zubrus offers help from behind. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005

Fans were still finding their seats at MCI Center when backup goaltender Brent Johnson faced the game's first two shots. And although the scoring attempts appeared innocuous enough, the Washington Capitals quickly found themselves trailing by a couple of goals.

Johnson, making his first start for Washington, and his teammates were unable to overcome their early follies against the New York Islanders and fell for the second time in two nights, 5-3. Afterward, they held a players-only meeting.

"Some of the mistakes we keep making are fixable," captain Jeff Halpern said. "There's definitely things that need to be worked on, but it's a question of going out and doing it instead of talking about it. A lot of the stuff that was said needed to be said."

At least part of the discussion, which was led by the team's veterans and lasted about 10 minutes, probably focused on the first 3 minutes and 13 seconds last night, during which Islanders captain Alexei Yashin skated unchallenged into the crease and scored, and Trent Hunter tallied from an almost impossible angle, giving the Islanders a 2-0 lead.

"With the first and second goal, I was a little back in my crease on the first one and wasn't facing the shooter on the second one," Johnson said.

The Capitals managed to make things interesting for the announced crowd of 10,394, at least for a while, after goals by Matt Bradley and Steve Eminger trimmed New York's edge to 3-2.

But, as if on cue, Washington's inexperienced defense suffered another critical breakdown, and Johnson allowed another shaky goal, and the Islanders restored their two-goal edge 1:03 into the third period.

"I definitely don't think it's effort, it's bearing down and executing the game plan," Eminger said. "You can blame it on age. But we're all in the NHL and we're here for a reason, so we know how to play the game. It's concentrating for the full 60 minutes. We aren't doing that."

The lack of concentration was apparent in the defensive zone. Johnson, who was claimed off waivers this month to back up Olie Kolzig, faced 49 shots. It marked the sixth time in six games the Capitals have been out-shot. Islanders goalies Rick DiPietro and Garth Snow, meantime, saw a combined 29.

"Olie and Johnson are playing great back there and we're leaving them out to dry sometimes," said Bradley, who recorded the first two-goal game of his career. "We can't expect them to stop the second and third shot. The defense and forwards have to clear in front of the net and get the pucks out."

Washington rookie Alex Ovechkin, with his first-period assist on Bradley's score, extended his team-record points streak to start an NHL career to six games. The 20-year-old Russian entered the game tied with six players for second most goals (four).

Yashin opened the scoring on the Islanders' first shot of the game -- 2:10 in -- by redirecting Brad Lukowich's slap shot from the blueline. Yashin was permitted to stand in the slot for several seconds before deflecting the shot up and over Johnson.

Hunter stretched the Islanders' lead to 2-0 on the team's next shot. The right wing was drifting backward behind the goal line in the corner when he fired a shot into the crease. The puck hit an unsuspecting Johnson and trickled between his pads and into the goal.

Before the Capitals were able to catch their collective breath, New York struck again. After a defensive breakdown at center ice, Jason Blake and Oleg Kvasha skated in two-on-one with Blake finishing Kvasha's pass at 8:24.

Washington was also the beneficiary of a soft goal in the first period. Bradley took a pass from Ovechkin, circled the net and fired a wrist shot short side past DiPietro to trim the Capitals' deficit to 3-1. Eminger's second goal in three games put the Capitals back in contention, 3-2, at 7:52 of the second period.

Moments later, it appeared the Capitals got two breaks they needed. First, DiPietro suffered a mild concussion during a collision with Halpern and was forced out of the game. Then, the Islanders had a goal waived off because Hunter had kicked it into the net.

But only 63 seconds into the third period, Petteri Nokelainen netted his first NHL goal to put the Islanders ahead 4-2. Mark Parrish's first goal of the season gave New York a 5-2 lead. Bradley's second goal of the game, with 37 seconds remaining, provided the final margin.

"It's not time to push the panic button," Bradley said. "We just need to play the full 60 minutes."

Capitals Notes: Veteran center Andrew Cassels was struck with the puck on his ankle in the first period did not return. X-Rays were negative and he is listed as day-to-day. . . . The Capitals entered 24-3-3 vs. the Islanders since the 1997-98 season.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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