By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin scored his 44th goal against the Montreal Canadiens last night. But there was no exuberant leap along the dasher boards, no passionate fist pump after his shot eluded goaltender Cristobal Huet with 11 seconds remaining.
It capped a forgettable night for the Russian star winger, who was benched for much of the third period, and his listless teammates, 4-2 losers in front of a sparse crowd at Verizon Center.
After six straight losses, frustration has finally set in in the Capitals' coaches' office and in the locker room.
Coach Glen Hanlon declined to discuss his reasons for benching one of the league's best players for 14 minutes, saying only that it was "a decision we made internally."
"I felt that was one of the few games we didn't give a winning effort," Hanlon said. "The person I feel most sorry for is [goaltender Olie Kolzig]. He doesn't deserve this. What are [we] going to do to guard against these types of efforts coming down the stretch? That is the monster we face."
The Capitals skated to a 1-1 tie through the first 20 minutes, despite being outshot 13-4. But their half-hearted effort caught up to them in the second, when, during a disastrous span of 2 minutes 6 seconds, the Canadiens scored three times.
Ovechkin, who skated seven fewer shifts than linemate Dainius Zubrus, remained on the bench for the final three minutes of the middle frame and the first 11 minutes of the third.
"He didn't play the first part of the third period," Hanlon said. "It's a decision we made internally that we needed to do. It needs more expanding, but I just feel with respect to everyone involved, it's just better not to."
Ovechkin, the player the rebuilding franchise is banking on, declined to start a squabble with his coach through the media.
"It was coach's decision," Ovechkin said, wearing a relaxed expression. Asked if he was angry, he said: "No, I'm okay. It's his decision. I don't know [why], ask him."
Kolzig, meantime, took out his anger on his goal stick, twice smashing it on the ice after Canadiens goals. The second time he broke the blade.
"We were lucky it was 1-1 after one period," said Capitals center Brian Sutherby, who had his team's other goal. "On most nights when we've lost, we've been pretty happy with our effort and that's never been a problem. Tonight certainly wasn't one of our better games. Why we didn't have the jump or the effort, I'm not sure I have an answer for you. But we've got to all look in the mirror and regroup for our next game."
Effort was not a problem for the Canadiens, who came to Washington in desperate need of a win after losing their previous three games. The final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference was slipping away from them.
The win kept the Canadiens one point ahead of the surging Atlanta Thrashers in the race for the eighth playoff berth. The Thrashers defeated Buffalo, 5-0, to remain in hot pursuit.
"It was huge," Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "Just look at the standings. It's coming down to a pretty tight race. It was really important to come in here and give a good effort."
Michael Komisarek's blast from just inside the blueline gave the Canadiens an early 1-0 lead. The defenseman's shot hit Kolzig's outstretched leg pad, but trickled underneath at 5:47.
Sutherby tied the game at 16:17 of the opening period, using a move he must have learned from Ovechkin. As he skated into the Canadiens' zone, Sutherby faked a pass, kicked the puck back onto his stick, then snapped it over Huet's blocker glove.
The Canadiens came out with an edge in the second period. Souray laid a crushing body check on Ovechkin behind the Montreal goal. Ovechkin responded moments later by sending Craig Rivet flying through the air, but the message had been delivered. The Canadiens wanted the two standings points.
Michael Ryder, on the power play, banged in a rebound from point-blank range to put Montreal ahead for good, 2-1, at 7:28.
Alexander Perezhogin deflected a Komisarek slap shot past a screened Kolzig at 9:08 to make it 3-1. And just 26 seconds later, Mathieu Dandenault corralled a loose puck in the slot and whipped a wrist shot around Kolzig to extend the Canadiens' lead to 4-1.
Ovechkin's goal, a wrist shot from the slot at 19:49, made it 4-2.
Today, the Capitals embark on a challenging stretch that will see them play the next seven games away from Verizon Center because of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. They have a league-worst seven victories on the road this season.
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Bryan Muir was sidelined by the flu. Seldom-used Nolan Yonkman replaced him in the lineup. . . . The attendance was announced as 11,653, but there appeared to be significantly fewer fans in the building.