Penalties Adding Up Against Team

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 14, 2006

ST. PAUL, Minn., Oct. 13 -- It's probably premature to label it a trend, but -- don't look now -- the number of penalties taken by the Washington Capitals has grown each game.

After an exemplary season opener against the Rangers in New York, where the Capitals were whistled for three infractions, the total increased to seven against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Their propensity for taking penalties officially became a problem in Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota. The Wild scored twice with the man advantage (10 opportunities) and had four power plays in the third period.

"The penalties are very much a concern," Coach Glen Hanlon said outside the locker room at Xcel Energy Center. "It's something we addressed at the start of the year, and [Thursday] there were a lot of unnecessary penalties again.

"Five on five, we were good."

It wasn't only the volume of penalties that worried Hanlon and some players; it also was the nature and timing of them, too. Seven were for obstruction infractions -- hooking, holding or interference -- and Shaone Morrisonn (interference) and Dainius Zubrus (holding) each were sent to the penalty box in the final 2 minutes 39 seconds of the game.

"I think some games are called more [tightly] than others, but I'm not blaming the referees," Zubrus said. "My penalties were probably the worst, the way I took them and the timing of it, too. They had a very good chance to win the game because of it. We have to realize that I have to keep my stick on the ice and play the puck."

Backup goalie Brent Johnson added: "It was one of those games where penalties [determined] the outcome of the game. They got both of their goals on the power play and they are one of those teams you can't take too many penalties and give them too many chances. We were on the penalty kill a lot."

Killing penalties has another effect: It also keeps Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, the team's best players, off of the ice.

The Capitals did not practice yesterday as they returned home from Minnesota. They will host Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday at Verizon Center.

Ovechkin's Shootout Skid

Ovechkin's failure to score in Thursday's shootout -- he was turned aside by Wild netminder Manny Fernandez, who stuck out his left pad just in time -- marked the fifth consecutive attempt dating from last season that the Capitals star has come up empty.

Ovechkin has missed, or been stopped, seven of his last eight times. It's quite a contrast from the way he started last season, when he scored on his first four attempts and five of his first six.

Asked what happened in Minnesota, Ovechkin said, "I just missed."

Those who watch him daily say the reason for his struggles are twofold: Goalies are getting wise to his tendencies, and Ovechkin is compensating by trying new strategies.

Pothier Leads in Ice Time

Defenseman Brian Pothier leads the Capitals and ranks fifth in the NHL (through Thursday's games) with 28:25 of ice time per game, up nearly 12 minutes from his average last season (16:46). . . .

The Capitals will honor Ovechkin for winning rookie of the year honors during a ceremony prior to Saturday's game. He'll be presented with the Calder Trophy, which will also be on display on the concourse for photographs. Fans will receive a commemorative coin.

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