Capitals Are Muffled by Fleury

shaone morrisonn - washington capitals
Shaone Morrisonn, above, and the Caps clamped down on Sydney Crosby, as did the Penguins on Alex Ovechkin, but the stalemate results in a Pittsburgh victory. (Keith Srakocic - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 3 -- Alex Ovechkin snapped his stick in half, jammed it into a trash can and then slammed the door to the visitors' locker room at Mellon Arena.

It was an unusual outburst for the Washington Capitals' happy-go-lucky star. But in the moments following Saturday's 2-0 loss to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals' third straight setback, he couldn't contain his frustration.

"I [am] just very, very mad," said Ovechkin, whose 13-game point streak ended.

The afternoon concluded with the sellout crowd chanting "Fleury!, Fleury!" as his teammates congratulated the 22-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick for his 30-save performance and fourth shutout of the season.

About the same time, Ovechkin, the NHL's leading goal scorer, stormed off the ice, fuming about the Capitals' lack of offensive production. He also singled out the problematic power play, which finished 0-4.

"We have to score," said Ovechkin, his arms folded, his expression blank. "We have many chances."

Ovechkin (three shots) wasn't the only star whose name was curiously absent from the scoresheet. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, whose 82 points are the most in the league, also was blanked. The Penguins, in fact, had never won without their second-year star recording at least a point (0-31-1).

Until Saturday, that is.

Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig (18 saves) made several spectacular stops, but was beaten by Ronald Petrovicky on a rather routine looking wrist shot midway through the second period. Fleury made sure that goal stood up, stopping 13 shots in the third period, and then Jordan Staal sealed the Penguins' sixth consecutive victory with an empty-net tally in the final minute.

Fleury "didn't give up any goals and that was the difference," Kolzig said. "He was terrific. But if we keep playing that way, we're going to win more times than not."

Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon also praised Fleury, saying: "He played extremely well. I thought we had our chances, we just couldn't score. We must have had three or four real good flurries. We had three, maybe four, times where we had a third [rebound] opportunity to score and we just couldn't buy a goal."

Fleury was at his best when it mattered most -- in the third period while the Penguins protected a 1-0 lead. His most critical save came against Eric Fehr, whom he turned away on a rush from point-blank range. A split second later, he kicked out a pad to stop Fehr's rebound attempt.

The Capitals' power play clicked early, but ultimately let them down. Some of that was due to Fleury's play. But a lot of the problems had everything to do with Washington's poor execution.

"On the power play, it's one of the areas where you draw things up," Hanlon said. "Everyone is supposed to be in a certain place at a certain point in time. And when it's not executed properly, you are going to have problems."

Although Crosby and rookie Evgeni Malkin may earn the majority of the accolades, it could be argued that Fleury has been the Penguins' MVP this season. The Penguins are 8-0-1 in their last nine games, and Fleury has been in net for seven of those victories. That stretch has them challenging for their first playoff berth since 2001.

The Capitals, meantime, are speeding in the opposite direction, having lost eight of 10. The slump has dealt their playoff hopes a devastating blow and now seems to be wearing on some players, Ovechkin in particular.

"He wants to win," Hanlon said of his 21-year-old wing. "It's not the first time he's been upset by a loss. He's a focused guy, and he wants to win hockey games."

Capitals Notes: The odd man out on defense was Lawrence Nycholat, who was a healthy scratch for the first time since being recalled from the minor leagues Dec. 23, a span of 18 games. He skated a season-low 12 minutes 28 seconds during Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. . . . The other Capitals scratches were forwards Matt Bradley and Kris Beech and backup goaltender Brent Johnson. . . . Penguins right wing Colby Armstrong was out because of a sprained knee. . . . Defenseman Milan Jurcina skated 20:23 in his Capitals debut.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company