By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; E01
There was little debate in the Washington Capitals' locker room after yesterday's 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
The defeat, players and coaches agreed, was the result of three recurring issues:
· Another sluggish start, which permitted Phoenix to take an early two-goal lead.
· The problematic penalty kill, which yielded two Coyotes scores on five opportunities.
· The inability to capitalize on a 58-second, two-man advantage in the third period.
That all added up to a fifth consecutive loss -- and seventh in eight games -- for the Capitals, whose plummet through the Eastern Conference standings continued to gather momentum before 12,579 at Verizon Center. Wayne Gretzky's Coyotes, meantime, improved to 4-0-1 in their past five games.
"You can't spot teams two power-play goals," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "It came down to a specialty-teams game, and we lost."
During the losing streak, Washington's power play is 3 for 30 while the penalty kill has yielded at least one goal in each contest.
Yesterday, Capitals center Brian Sutherby ended a 29-game goal drought in the second period and pulled the Capitals to within 3-2 with 28 minutes 38 seconds left.
But Alex Ovechkin (game-high seven shots) and Co. couldn't squeeze the equalizer past Phoenix goaltender Mikael Tellqvist, despite the nearly minute-long five-on-three and a six-on-five for the final 1:19.
"It's a whiny old cliche that if you don't score on a five-on-three, usually it comes back to haunt you, and it was true to form," said Hanlon, whose team managed only one shot on goal during that two-man advantage.
Gretzky praised Tellqvist, who was occasionally spectacular in making 30 saves.
"When we did break down, our goaltender was excellent," the Coyotes coach said. "Our goaltending has been superb the last little while."
At the other end of the ice, Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig stopped 24 shots, but said he was out of position on the Coyotes' third goal, which was scored by Shane Doan with 15 seconds left in the first period. The decisive power-play tally put the visitors ahead 3-1.
"He came down the middle on his off wing, and my alignment was off. I lined up on his body and not with the puck," Kolzig said. "And as a result, I had to reach too far."
The Capitals were mostly recovered from the stomach virus that had stricken at least eight players in recent days, and the team's sluggish start yesterday likely had something to do with it. They were also playing their fifth game in seven days.
And the Coyotes took full advantage. Fresh off an 8-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, they dominated early, at one point holding an 8-0 edge in shots on goal.
Owen Nolan struck on the power play only 2:02 in, jamming a pass from Yanic Perreault between Kolzig's pads.
Brian Pothier's first goal as a Capital came on the power play at 13:43 and tied the score at 1. The defenseman pinched in deep, controlled a rebound from an Ovechkin shot and backhanded the puck over Tellqvist.
Keith Ballard made it 2-1 at 16:56 when, from the slot, he snapped a pass from Nolan past Kolzig, ending a 28-game scoreless streak for the defenseman.
Doan then scored the decisive goal with Washington center Dainius Zubrus in the penalty box for a questionable tripping call, stretching the Coyotes' lead to 3-1.
The Capitals were unable to convert on back-to-back power-play opportunities to open the second period.
Sutherby's goal trimmed Phoenix's lead to 3-2. He unleashed a shot from the top of the circle over Tellqvist's blocker as Coyotes defenseman Travis Roche slid past.
Shortly after that, things got interesting when the Coyotes took three consecutive penalties, including the ones that gave the Capitals the lengthy two-man advantage.
"One of our issues is to start playing a full 60 minutes, which we've done a few times now," Zubrus said. "We have to start good. Any time we get a good start, we play better the rest of the game."
Capitals Notes: Enforcer Donald Brashear served his one-game suspension for punching New York Rangers defenseman Aaron Ward on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. . . . Washington was without forwards Matt Bradley (hand surgery) and Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery) as well as defensemen John Erskine and Bryan Muir, both of whom are out because of broken feet.