Capitals Try to Shake Off Their Shaky Performance

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006

A few minutes into yesterday's practice, the Washington Capitals' first since Monday night's meltdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Coach Glen Hanlon called everyone over to him.

It's unclear exactly what Hanlon told his players, but their reaction said it all. They cracked up with laughter, then skated away tugging on one another and joking among themselves.

It was a complete turnaround from the somber feeling that enveloped the locker room following Monday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Penguins, a game in which the Capitals wasted a 4-0 lead.

"You can look at Monday, put your head down for a couple of games and let it snowball," veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "Or you can learn from it. Hopefully, it's a lesson learned."

Kolzig paused, then added, "We had been playing with fire for a few games before Pittsburgh."

He was referring to the Capitals' recent run of uneven performances, warning signs that had been eclipsed by the final scores:

· On Nov. 28, the Capitals took a 4-0 lead over Tampa Bay into the third period, but the Lightning scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the period. The Capitals held on for a 5-2 road victory, but only because Kolzig made 23 of his 48 saves in the third.

· On Nov. 30, the Capitals led Dallas, 4-1, before the Stars cut it to 4-3. Kolzig made 18 saves in the third.

· On Dec. 2, the Capitals took a 5-1 lead against Buffalo, but the Sabres scored twice in a 10-minute span in the second period. The Capitals' 7-4 victory was closer than it appeared.

· On Dec. 9, a short-handed score by Brooks Laich put the Capitals ahead 2-0 in Philadelphia, but the Peter Forsberg-less Flyers struck three times in the second period to even things at 3. The Capitals' 5-3 win wasn't clinched until Matt Pettinger's power-play goal with 51 seconds left.

"We're not the best defensive team in the league," Hanlon said. "There's going to be times where we score four goals, and we're not going to win 4-0. We've got some young players who are going to make some mistakes."

And the Penguins, another young and inexperienced team, took full advantage.

The Capitals were devastated. They were angry. They were embarrassed. But, during a closed-door meeting afterward, they also decided to leave it all at Verizon Center.

"It wasn't going to do us any good to sulk and have a bad week and dwell on it," Brian Sutherby said. "We talked about how we have to make sure it doesn't happen again. But we also talked about coming back to practice, being enthusiastic and having fun."

Dainius Zubrus echoed Sutherby's sentiments. "The best thing when you leave the rink is leave it at the rink," he said. "If you think about that game too much, you are thinking about the wrong things. Your focus has to be the next game, not the last one."

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