Without Top Two, Caps Fall by a Pair

jeff halper - washington capitals
Jeff Halpern, left, was without teammates Alex Ovechkin or Dainius Zubrus in New York, but the Capitals receive an stout effort from Olaf Kolzig in goal before finally succumbing in the final minutes. (Bruce Bennett - Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

UNIONDALE, N.Y., Jan. 31 -- The Washington Capitals didn't have Alex Ovechkin or Dainius Zubrus, their most skilled players. Defensive specialist Matt Bradley was out, too, and captain Jeff Halpern departed in the second period.

Tuesday night's game on Long Island against the desperate New York Islanders had all the makings of an unmitigated disaster.

But Olie Kolzig and the injury-depleted Capitals refused to allow it. They lost, 5-3, at Nassau Coliseum, yet the veteran goalie and an unheralded hodgepodge of checking forwards and defensemen made it closer than anticipated.

The score was tied at 3 for most of the third period, much to the dismay of the crowd of 10,269, which twice booed the home team. Things remained that way until Islanders winger Jason Blake snapped a wrist shot over Kolzig (28 saves) on the power play, New York's third consecutive man advantage, with 4 minutes 43 seconds remaining.

"We thought we were going to be competitive and we were competitive," Capitals winger Ben Clymer said. "You have to believe that."

Blake added an empty-net goal with 13 seconds left to clinch it for the Islanders, who also got two goals from Oleg Kvasha and 26 saves from goalie Rick DiPietro to win their third straight.

"We ran out of gas the last 10 minutes," Kolzig said. "When you take penalties and you're short-handed it depletes everyone's energy. But character-wise, it was a heck of an effort."

Blake said: "There was a sign of desperation on our bench in the third. We needed this win."

But it didn't come as easily as the Islanders would have liked, especially considering the Capitals were without Ovechkin and Zubrus, who represent two-thirds of Washington's top forward line, and Bradley.

Ovechkin, the Capitals' leading scorer and franchise player, was a late scratch because of a nagging groin muscle injury, and Zubrus, who is second on the team in points, was unable to play because of a lingering arm injury.

The first hint of a problem with Ovechkin came Sunday in the Capitals' 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay at MCI Center. It was obvious Ovechkin (34 goals, 31 assists) did not have the burst of speed that separates him from other players -- and the opposing team's defenders.

Confirmation came Monday when Ovechkin did not practice. The 20-year-old rookie left wing attempted to skate Tuesday morning, but he lasted only five minutes on the ice.

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