By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
ATLANTA, March 12 -- When the NHL's free agency period begins July 1, players hoping to cash in won't be the only ones paying close attention to the Washington Capitals' spending. So will Alex Ovechkin, who before Monday night's 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers was unusually blunt about his expectations for the offseason.
"It's not important for me, it's important for our team," said the all-star left wing, who scored his 40th and 41st goals in the defeat, the Capitals' eighth straight. "We need players. We need help. We are young, that's why we need guys who have experience, guys who [have played in the] playoffs. Sometimes experience wins the game."
Ovechkin may have stated the obvious, but his comments were further proof of the growing sentiment in the Capitals' locker room -- particularly among core players -- that a significant infusion of talent is necessary for the struggling club to reverse its fortunes.
"We need some players who are going to make an impact," said injured goaltender Olie Kolzig, nodding in agreement with Ovechkin's assessment. "We just have to trust that ownership and management will get the players who will help us get to the next level."
The Capitals' deficiencies on defense were painfully apparent once again at Philips Arena, where they out-shot the Thrashers, 33-21, but were unable to overcome a pair of turnovers that Atlanta forwards Bobby Holik and Keith Tkachuk buried behind goaltender Brent Johnson, who left after the second period with a right knee injury.
"That was pretty much it," Coach Glen Hanlon said of the costly miscues by youthful defensemen Mike Green and Steve Eminger.
"I try to do what I can do," Ovechkin said, shrugging his shoulders.
But he can't do it alone, a fact recognized by majority owner Ted Leonsis, who recently acknowledged plans to upgrade the roster. Leonsis's words heartened Ovechkin -- for now.
"Our bosses know what they do," he said. "This summer [General Manager George McPhee] will sign somebody. Not just players, real good players. Because we need it."
But until those reinforcements arrive, the Capitals, who have the fourth-worst record in the league, will have more nights like they had against the Thrashers, who handed them their 13th loss in 14 games.
Meantime, Atlanta, which bolstered its roster at the trade deadline, adding Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik, among others, to a lineup that already featured Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, moved into first place in the Southeast Division with the victory, their sixth in seven games.
After Thrashers winger Vyacheslav Kozlov fired a long rebound past Johnson at 11 minutes 26 seconds of the first period, Holik scored a goal that's destined for the highlights. Holik was knocked down by Green, but, from his stomach, was able to extend his stick and redirect Eric Boulton's pass into the net. A turnover by Green at the blueline led to the opportunity.
Ovechkin cut the Thrashers' lead to 2-1 at 5:27 of the second period, when his shot deflected off defenseman Niclas Havelid and past Kari Lehtonen. But Tkachuk restored Atlanta's two-goal lead about 10 minutes later after finishing off another setup pass by Boulton, who doubled his assist total.
Johnson hurt himself while sprawling to stop Tkachuk's shot and was replaced by Frederic Cassivi at the start of the third period. Johnson will be reevaluated Tuesday. The Capitals don't play again until Thursday in Boston, where Kolzig hopes to return from a sprained left knee.
Ovechkin's second goal deflected into the net off Thrashers defenseman Andy Sutton's skate at 1:26 of the third period and made it 3-2. But Kovalchuk squashed the Capitals' comeback by beating Cassivi between the pads with 10:25 left to play.