By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006
ATLANTA, Oct. 19 -- Chris Clark has said it twice in the span of 24 hours: The Washington Capitals must learn how to close out games.
On Wednesday, they beat the Florida Panthers despite a second- period meltdown. At Philips Arena on Thursday, they were not so fortunate.
Marian Hossa banged a rebound past backup goaltender Brent Johnson with a little less than 33 seconds remaining in regulation -- and six Atlanta attackers on the ice -- to force overtime. Then Hossa and Slava Kozlov scored the only goals in the shootout to lift the Thrashers to a 4-3 victory.
"It's a learning process how to win games," said Clark, the Capitals' captain. "It's not as easy as you think. The other team is fighting. But you have to do the little things without changing your game. It's tough."
Capitals defenseman Ben Clymer concurred.
"These are the kinds of games Detroit wins every night," he said. "These are the games New Jersey wins every night. We've got to learn how to do that."
It didn't help that Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin -- each of whom scored during regulation -- were thwarted by Thrashers star netminder Kari Lehtonen in the shootout. The Capitals' best players, Ovechkin and Semin, have misfired on both of their shootout attempts this season, and Ovechkin has come up empty on six in a row dating from last season.
Asked whether Ovechkin's shootout struggles were a concern, Hanlon shook his head and said, "No," four times.
"That's five games without a regulation loss, so we're making improvements," Hanlon said. "They have got a good hockey club with Hossa and [Ilya] Kovalchuk, and [Andy] Sutton does well against Ovechkin. They are also getting saves they didn't get last year. We know what to do to win. We did some good things. We scored a power-play goal which had seemed like an eternity."
In regulation, Hossa and Slava Kozlov put the Thrashers ahead 2-0 in front 12,719 fans. But the Capitals regrouped behind Johnson, who was occasionally spectacular in making 40 saves.
Dainius Zubrus threw a puck past Lehtonen (27 saves) early in the second, and Semin and Ovechkin scored 57 seconds apart later in the period to put the visitors ahead, 3-2. Semin's goal came on the power play.
But the Capitals never managed to put away the Thrashers, who earned their second win over Washington in six days. They won, 4-3, in overtime at Verizon Center on Saturday.
"It's always great when you find a way to win," Hossa said. "We didn't have a great second period, but we found a way and that's big. We never quit. That's what is so big about this team. We showed a lot of character, and got a big two points."
The game-tying goal began with a shot from Kovalchuk, which skipped along the ice and bounced off of a sprawled Johnson and directly onto the stick of Hossa, who was standing alone in front of an empty net.
"I'm mad at myself," Johnson said. "It was just a dribbler through everyone, seemed like 10 miles an hour. It hit my pad and went right to that guy. There was 30 something seconds left. We let two points slip away."
Hossa opened the scoring on the power play at 5:02 of the first period. He redirected a slap shot by Kovalchuk, tipping it up and over Johnson.
In the second period, Hossa set up a goal by Kozlov, who, from point-blank range, jammed in Hossa's pass from behind the net. Kozlov's goal, at 1:04, came just as Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn stepped out of the penalty box after serving a cross-checking minor.
Zubrus's goal, at 3:39, cut the Thrashers' lead to 2-1. Zubrus threw the puck toward the goal where it deflected off an Atlanta player and past Lehtonen.
The Capitals were not done. Semin evened the game at 2 at 14:51, rifling a short side shot over Lehtonen's blocker glove for his team-leading seventh goal of the season. Ovechkin gave Washington the lead at 15:48, knocking a loose puck in the crease past a scrambling Lehtonen, who had just dropped his stick.
Capitals Notes: Rookie defenseman Mike Green was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. General Manager George McPhee said he is day-to-day. Seldom-used Bryan Muir replaced Green.