With 'No Legs,' Capitals Falter

Stephen Weiss scored once in the second period and  twice in the third as Florida turned Saturday's game into a laugher.
Stephen Weiss scored once in the second period and twice in the third as Florida turned Saturday's game into a laugher. (Eliot J. Schechter - Getty Images)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 14, 2007

SUNRISE, Fla., Jan. 13 -- For the Washington Capitals, Saturday was an exasperating night for so many reasons. The lowly competition. The slow start. The humiliating finish. The horrifying statistics. And, with another road loss, the fading playoff picture.

The Capitals had every reason to hope for two points against the Florida Panthers, the Eastern Conference's second-worst team, but instead they gave one of their worst efforts of the season in a 7-3 loss in front of 15,061 delighted fans at BankAtlantic Center. After falling behind just over a minute into the game, the Capitals got manhandled, and then embarrassed, by one of the league's lightweights.

The damage was extensive. Florida center Stephen Weiss earned a hat trick with one goal in the second period and two in the third. The Capitals were outshot 53-17 -- a season high and low -- and saw goalie Olie Kolzig benched at the start of the final period because Coach Glen Hanlon judged he had already put in a full night's work.

The Capitals, which began the game in 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings, lost for the fifth straight time on the road. Players gathered in their locker room for a closed-door meeting immediately after the game to air their frustrations.

"We had no legs and it was just a bad night all around," Hanlon said. "To a man, no one had any energy."

Maybe the Panthers were fired up after their loss to Carolina two nights previous, when they allowed six third-period goals. Maybe the Capitals spent too much time in the Florida sun in recent days, having settled into a hotel on Hollywood Beach after their loss in Tampa on Thursday.

"For some reason, we didn't get anything done," said winger Chris Clark, who scored a late goal for Washington. "When you start off bad, it just gives the other team more energy."

Fans had barely settled into their seats when Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester surprised Kolzig by chipping in a left-handed opportunity created when Rostislav Olesz and Martin Gelinas jumped on a loose puck and pitched it ahead. Center Chris Gratton put the Panthers up 2-0 at 12 minutes 46 seconds, pushing a rebound of a slap shot past Kolzig, who shook his head after the play, beginning to show the night's frustration.

Washington mustered a mere five shots in the first period despite a power-play opportunity. Kolzig, meantime, faced 14. The Capitals continued to struggle in the second, going the first eight minutes without a shot as Florida continued to batter Kolzig, who handled 27 second-period shots and gave up three goals.

"He was the only one who played extremely well for us," Hanlon said. "He had [41] shots in two periods. That's enough."

Alexander Semin provided the Capitals' first goal nearly 12 minutes into the second period when he poked a rebound of a slap shot between the legs of Ed Belfour, making the score 2-1, but the celebration was short-lived. The goal was the eighth in the last five games for Semin, who was denied a place on the all-star team.

A three-goal barrage by the Panthers in a five-minute span of the second period all but wiped out the Capitals' hopes. Seconds after being denied on a nifty glove save by Kolzig, Weiss punched a loose puck into the net with six minutes left in the period. Just over three minutes later, Olesz put the Panthers up 4-1 on a textbook power play, almost casually sending a center pass from Jozef Stumpel into the net.

With 1:04 left in the second, Bouwmeester scored his second goal, alertly slapping a rebound past Kolzig.

Weiss scored his second goal just over four minutes into the third on a breakaway against Brent Johnson, and added his third on a power-play tip-in at 10:41. That came just a minute after Washington's Matt Pettinger had surprised the Panthers with a short-handed goal on a heady breakaway with just over 10 minutes left.

"When you give up that many shots, some are bound to go in no matter how good your goalie is," Clark said. "We have one of the best goalies in the league and we let him down."

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