By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
OTTAWA, Jan. 16 -- The effort was much better than Saturday's. But the result wasn't, and at this critical stage of the season, moral victories don't amount to a whole lot for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, whose playoffs hopes dimmed a bit more with their third consecutive loss, 5-2, to the powerful Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday night.
"We need a victory any way it will come," goaltender Brent Johnson said afterward. "We need a bounce here or there. But it's up to us to do it."
The "us" Johnson referred to could be one less. Rookie defenseman Mike Green took a slap shot off the foot in the first period. He returned, but after skating two shifts in the second, left the game. The extent of the injury was not immediately known, but Capitals General Manager George McPhee said it's possible he'll have to call up a minor leaguer.
As for Green's teammates, they rebounded from their weak performance 72 hours earlier in Florida, where they lost, 7-3, to the Panthers in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Against the Senators, the Capitals skated hard. They finished their checks. They mustered 30 shots to Ottawa's 34. But they simply didn't have the skill or depth to match up with Daniel Alfredsson (goal and an assist) and the surging Senators, whose winning streak grew to five games.
A close game turned in Ottawa's favor midway through the second period when Alfredsson parlayed a strange bounce into a 3-1 lead with a short-handed goal. Only 1 minute 7 seconds later, Mike Comrie's second goal of the night made it 4-1.
"There's a notch in the boards," said Johnson, who made 29 saves in his first start since Dec. 26. "The only thing I heard before [Alfredsson's shot] hit my glove was, 'Johnny! Johnny!' I didn't see him shoot it. We're not getting any bounces."
Coach Glen Hanlon noted that bad break, but he also pointed out his team's lack of production with the man advantage. The Capitals were 0 for 5 on the power play.
"We have to do something on the power play; that's what hurt us," he said.
After dropping back-to-back games at Tampa Bay and Florida, two teams the Capitals are battling for one of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spots, Ovechkin (one assist) and his teammates arrived in Ottawa refocused. Monday's practice was intense and Tuesday's morning skate was silent. Perhaps they realized what's at stake. Unfortunately, they seemed almost powerless to do anything about it against goaltender Ray Emery (28 saves) and the defensively sound Senators.
"We tried to do some things against a hockey team that's playing well right now," Hanlon said. "I certainly can't fault our guys for the way they played. We were outshooting them on the road with a few minutes to go."
The four-game trip gets no easier for the Capitals, who entered the game only two points ahead of the 14th place Panthers. After practicing Wednesday in Ottawa, they depart for Raleigh, N.C., to play the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ottawa defenseman Andrej Meszaros opened the scoring with a slap shot from above the circles that sailed past Johnson's blocker pad at 16:56. Moments later, Capitals winger Alexander Semin took a ill-advised tripping penalty in the offensive zone, and Comrie made it 2-0, jamming a loose puck past Johnson.
Pothier was called for hooking as Comrie scored, but Chris Clark scored a short-handed goal with less than three seconds remaining in the period to pull the Capitals to within 2-1. Defenseman Steve Eminger's end around ended up on the stick of Clark, who raced the length of the ice, faked a pass to Matt Pettinger and unleashed a beautiful wrist shot that banked off the post and in.
The Senators continued to cling to that slim lead into the second period when a clearing pass by Jakub Klepis took a strange bounce of the end boards and ricocheted into the slot, where Alfredsson buried it at 9:14. Comrie's second goal, at 10:21, made it 4-1.
Eminger scored his first goal of the season at 5:35 into the third to make it 4-2. Senators winger Peter Schaefer made it 5-2 at 13:36.
Capitals Note: Hanlon scratched Kris Beech and replaced the center with Klepis. Beech had only two assists in his previous nine games.