Caps Extend Slide With Loss at Home

Donald Brashear, Aaron Downey
The Capitals Donald Brashear squares off at center ice with the Canadiens Aaron Downey. Downey retreated to the locker room temporarily for stitches above his eye after the fight, which was Brashear's third the past three games. (Jim Young - Reuters)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals emerged from a two-day break for Christmas facing a daunting, yet potentially rewarding, stretch of four games in five nights against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

Halfway through it, however, there has been little reward.

The injury-ravaged Capitals were dropped by Cristobal Huet and the surging Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, last night at Verizon Center, 24 hours after they were humbled in Buffalo. Washington has lost four of its past five games.

"It's frustrating because we played a hundred times better than we did against the Sabres," goaltender Olie Kolzig said. "But we have nothing to show for it."

Mathieu Dandenault, Aaron Downey, Saku Koivu and Sheldon Souray scored for the Canadiens while Huet stopped 30 shots before an announced crowd of 15,609. Alexander Semin, meantime, scored Washington's goal, and Kolzig finished with 23 saves.

"This could be a bad time [to fall into a slump] because we have so many games," captain Chris Clark said. "But it could be a good time because we can bounce right back with so many games close together. We don't have time to dwell on things."

After getting a day off from practice today, the Capitals will return to the road for back-to-back games at the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

Washington did, however, receive some good news yesterday. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn might return from the unspecified illness that has held him out of the past four games. Without Morrisonn, as well as John Erskine and Bryan Muir, his injured colleagues on the blueline, and forwards Matt Bradley and Richard Zednik, Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon was again forced to juggle his lineup.

The Capitals have steadfastly refused to use their depleted roster as an excuse, but it's clearly taking its toll.

"We're missing some guys and it hurts us a little bit," center Dainius Zubrus said. "It's a long season, and that's going to happen. We have to move on."

One of Hanlon's more interesting decisions was using Ovechkin, Zubrus and Semin, the team's three most skilled forwards, on the same line for much of the night.

Hanlon has used this option in the past with varying degrees of success, but it puts pressure on the trio to score. Semin finished with a game-high seven shots; Ovechkin had five.

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