Capitals Lose Lead, Third Straight Game

brent johnson - washington capitals
Brent Johnson starts in goal for Washington, giving Olaf Kolzig a rare night off, but can not stop Buffalo's Daniel Briere from close in on this second period slap shot. (Joel Richardson - The Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The puck slid so slowly, it barely seemed to be moving, just like a baseball pitcher's change-up. It proved just tricky enough to fool goaltender Brent Johnson.

The Washington Capitals' backup couldn't slam shut his leg pads quickly enough to stop Ales Kotalik's deflected, off-speed wrist shot with less than two minutes remaining, and the Buffalo Sabres escaped Verizon Center with a 6-4 victory last night.

"It hit their stick, then hit [Capitals defenseman Shaone] Morrisonn's skate as I was moving across, and it went five-hole," said Johnson (35 saves). "It's heartbreaking."

The Capitals, who have lost three games in a row, nursed a one-goal lead deep into the third period. But the NHL's hottest team evened things at 4 when Derek Roy beat Johnson on the power play at 13 minutes 7 seconds.

About five minutes later, the game appeared headed to overtime when Kotalik took a pass from Jochen Hecht. Kotalik got enough of the puck to nudge toward the crease, where it tapped Morrisonn's skate and eluded Johnson with 1:43 remaining.

Maxim Afinogenov's empty-net goal in the final second ensured the Sabres left Washington with their seventh consecutive win.

"It's disappointing," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "We played with them. We played four lines, but our Achilles' heel was nine penalties."

The late loss ruined a three-point outburst for Capitals checking-line forward Ben Clymer (two goals and an assist) and another stellar performance by Alex Ovechkin, who continued his assault on the NHL's rookie records.

With his first-period assist, Ovechkin (goal and two assists) became the first rookie since 1993-94 to reach 80 points. With 43 goals and 82 points, the 20-year-old left wing is now four shy of the record for most points scored by a first-year Russian, set by Calgary's Sergei Makarov in 1989-90.

Buffalo, which got 29 saves from Ryan Miller, dominated the opening minutes, at one point outshooting the Capitals 8-1. They led 1-0 on a goal by Tim Connolly at 5:31.

But Washington scored the next three goals, including two in the final 48 seconds of the first period, to grab a 3-1 lead. Ovechkin set up Clymer's goal, then got one of his own at 19:11. Eight seconds after that, Jeff Halpern scored the Capitals' third goal on a breakaway.

It didn't hold up. Buffalo's Daniel Briere scored twice in the opening six minutes of the second period to tie the game 3-3.

Clymer's second goal, at 19:55 of the second, sent the Capitals into the final frame leading 4-3.

"This really stinks," Clymer said. "I'm not going to lie. It's definitely going to make sleeping tough tonight."

Capitals Notes: Chevy Chase native Stephen Werner, the Capitals' third-round draft choice in 2003, agreed to terms with his hometown NHL team yesterday. The 21-year-old University of Massachusetts senior was expected to report to the Capitals' minor league affiliate in Hershey, Pa., last night.

"It's crazy," Werner said on his cell phone as he drove from Amherst, Mass., to Hershey. "I'm so excited. There's a lot of guys from Maryland playing college hockey or juniors or for the Little Caps who want to make it to the top. [Potomac's Halpern] proved you could make it, and I guess I'm trying to prove it, too."

Werner, who is represented by Halpern's agent, Mike Liut, agreed to an amateur tryout contract for the remainder of this season. The 6-foot, 197-pound right wing also has a two-year, two-way deal that kicks in next season. Werner's professional contract includes a signing bonus of $275,000, and if he plays for the Capitals, a salary of $450,000 next season and $475,000 in 2007-08.

"We wanted to get him signed as soon as his school season was over and get him right into Hershey, not unlike what we did with Jeff Halpern seven years ago," General Manager George McPhee said. "It really seems to expedite their development and make them a lot better for the next training camp. [Werner] has NHL legs, NHL strength and size, and a great shot. Those are great attributes to have in today's NHL."

Werner, a 2000 All-Met at Bethesda-Chevy Chase and former member of the Washington Little Capitals, ended his U-Mass. career with 116 points in 143 games.

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