By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006
NEW YORK, Oct. 5 -- The capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden was still abuzz from opening-night introductions when Jaromir Jagr seized control of the puck at center ice. A few powerful strides later, the New York Rangers' right wing was at full speed.
There was little doubt what was going to happen next.
Jagr, named the team captain to a standing ovation moments before faceoff, unleashed the game's first shot -- a perfectly-placed wrister that beat Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig 29 seconds into the Rangers' 5-2 victory on Thursday night.
"We expected them to come out strong," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "There was hype with the opening night celebration going on here. We thought we weathered the storm after giving up the goal on the first shift. Then, there was a turnover, and it was 3-1 before we knew it."
So went the Capitals' night, which got off to a difficult start, improved briefly, then fell apart.
Jagr's goal kept the Rangers ahead until early in the second period, when Capitals winger Alexander Semin tied the game. But the mistake-prone visitors didn't stay even.
A bad pass by Capitals defenseman Bryan Muir wound up on the stick of Rangers winger Adam Hall, who dished the puck to Blair Betts. Betts beat Kolzig over the blocker to stake the Rangers to a 2-1 lead at 12 minutes 53 seconds.
Another turnover moments later landed on Petr Prucha's stick blade. Prucha settled the bouncing puck, looked up ice and zipped the puck across two lines to Brendan Shanahan, who skated in on Kolzig alone and snapped a shot between the goalie's pads at 14:27 to make it 3-1. The Capitals did not recover.
Kolzig finished with 31 saves; Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist made 25 stops, three of which came against Capitals' star Alex Ovechkin, who finished without a point.
Perhaps the most telling statistic was the Capitals going 0 for 8 on the power play. It was also interesting that the Capitals' newly formed line of Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik was on the ice for four Rangers goals (including one scored into an empty net).
"We just made lots of mistakes on power play," a visibly annoyed Ovechkin said afterward. "We must work on it. We had lots of power play and we must score."
As for his line's struggles, Ovechkin said, "I don't know what happened on our line, but next game will be better."
As expected, Hanlon tried a different look to open the season. Last year, Ovechkin skated with Zubrus and gritty winger Chris Clark.
"Maybe you now see how important Chris Clark was on the line," Hanlon said. "He retrieves pucks. It really proves that to make a perfect line, everyone has to play a role. I don't think you need three skilled players. Maybe it makes sense to put them back together."
Zubrus added: "We are playing a new system, so maybe there's a little bit of an adjustment period. I'm not sure where it went wrong. There were a lot of things we didn't do. It's a tough way to start the year."
It wasn't tough for Shanahan, who received an ovation during introductions and after both of his goals. His second goal, at 2:58 of the third period, gave him 600 for his career, a feat accomplished by only 15 players.
" 'Presence.' That's the key word when talking about Shanahan," Rangers Coach Tom Renney said. "It's his presence on the ice, in our locker and in practice. Wherever he is, he's a real gentleman."
Capitals grinder Rico Fata banged in a pass from Brian Sutherby with 1:42 remaining to make the score 4-2. But Martin Straka countered with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
"Tonight was just one of those things," Capitals defenseman Jamie Heward said. "We'll put it behind us and get ready for Saturday, where we're going to have to limit our turnovers against another good hockey team."
The Capitals host the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in their home opener Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Capitals Notes: Defenseman John Erskine and center Jakub Klepis were healthy scratches. Winger Matt Bradley was out with an undisclosed injury.