Patchwork Caps Blanked for 2nd Consecutive Game

The Caps' Ben Clymer shoots on Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, but the puck hits the post. Washington hasn't scored in 121 minutes 47 seconds.
The Caps' Ben Clymer shoots on Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, but the puck hits the post. Washington hasn't scored in 121 minutes 47 seconds. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Write
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

In the third period, Alex Ovechkin began muttering to himself in Russian.

The source of Ovechkin's frustration was his inability to squeeze a puck past Roberto Luongo, whose scintillating performance in the Florida net last night made the Panthers' 5-0 victory over the injury-depleted Washington Capitals at MCI Center look ridiculously easy.

The loss was the Capitals' second in a row by the same margin and extended their scoring drought to 121 minutes 47 seconds.

Ovechkin's personal goal-less streak, meantime, reached five games. Slowed by a nagging groin injury, the Capitals' leading scorer has one goal in his past eight contests.

"I had a couple of great chances to score," Ovechkin said. "But it's my fault I didn't score in this situation. I didn't help team. I said Russian bad words."

While Ovechkin blamed himself, Coach Glen Hanlon said his team's lackluster loss was the result of an already talent-thin lineup stretched thinner yet by injuries.

"We are what we are," he said. "It's not an NHL lineup. We're playing a lot of prospects. These kids are all a long way away from being ready to wear this sweater for real. And it showed. We had lots of shots on goal, but lots were from the perimeter."

Several of the Capitals' 44 shots, however, came from point-blank range. Two of the prime opportunities, in fact, came off the stick of Ovechkin early in the third period. But both times Luongo was there with a pad or glove.

Luongo's performance was reminiscent of the masterpiece he put together here on Dec. 18, a game in which the Capitals fired 55 shots at him but still lost, 3-2.

"That was probably one of the better performances I've seen," left wing Jeff Friesen said. "Not highlight-reel saves, but he pretty much knew where the puck was going. He's a great goalie, but tonight it seemed like he was one step ahead."

Luongo said: "I think it's a matter of confidence when you start a game against a team you know you have their number." His counterpart in the Capitals' goal, Olie Kolzig, made 35 saves.

After the Panthers' three-goal second period, Joe Nieuwendyk's score at 10:18 of the third gave the Panthers a 4-0 lead. Jon Sim's third goal of the night, less than two minutes later, sent what little remained of the sparse crowd streaming for the exits.

Ovechkin recorded a game-high 10 shots on goal. But it didn't help that his line was disrupted by the recent rash of injuries. Chris Clark, the feisty winger who plays to his right, was out with an upper body injury.

In addition to being without Clark, the struggling Capitals, who have lost six of eight, also were without veterans Jeff Halpern and Matt Bradley. Halpern was sidelined for a third consecutive game with a back injury and Bradley was out for a fourth straight with a foot injury. Defenseman Steve Eminger remained on injured reserve with a sprained ankle. He has missed 11 games.

The long list of medical scratches necessitated multiple call-ups, all from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Jakub Klepis, Joey Tenute and Louis Robitaille all skated against the Panthers.

Fleischmann and Klepis -- both prospects -- spent time in Washington earlier this season. Tenute and Robitaille are not necessarily considered future Capitals, but rather NHL hopefuls being rewarded for their efforts in Hershey.

"The last goal," Hanlon said. "We had people standing right where they are supposed to be, but we're not within a stick length. It's not what veteran, good players do."

The first period ended scoreless, but that's not to say the Capitals didn't have ample opportunity. They outshot the Panthers 18-9.

"We had our chances, but we just didn't score," center Dainius Zubrus said. "Then we had two breakdowns in the second period and they did score. It was one of those games where we really don't feel like they outplayed us, but the score tells you different."

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