Capitals Finish Road Trip 0-3

Olie Kolzig fends off a shot from Montreal's Jeff Schultz. The Canadiens outshot Washington 40-26 on Saturday.
Olie Kolzig fends off a shot from Montreal's Jeff Schultz. The Canadiens outshot Washington 40-26 on Saturday. (Ian Barrett - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007

MONTREAL, March 24 -- When the Washington Capitals departed for a three-game road trip Tuesday, they were coming off back-to-back victories and spoke optimistically about the season's final three weeks, viewing them as an opportunity to ruin other teams' postseason plans and generate momentum for next season.

Such optimism, however, was nowhere to be found in the visitors' locker room at Bell Centre, where the desperate Montreal Canadiens handed the Capitals a 4-1 defeat, their third straight and 12th in their past 14 games.

Despite an impressive effort from goaltender Olie Kolzig (36 saves), Alex Kovalev (two goals) and the Canadiens were simply too much for the overmatched Capitals, whose youth and inexperience contributed to countless breakdowns at critical moments.

"We didn't play bad, but we didn't play as well as we could have," Kolzig said. "We backed off in the second period for whatever reason. We did the exact opposite of what our game plan was. Obviously the second period was our downfall."

In that period, Kovalev scored his second goal of the game after stuffing in a rebound on the power play during a scrum in front of the net, and 5 minutes 28 seconds later, Tomas Plekanec fired a shot from the slot over Kolzig's shoulder to put the Canadiens in control, 3-1. Both goals were the result of missed defensive assignments.

Michael Ryder clinched the Canadiens' sixth win in seven games with the only goal of the third period. The victory was also Montreal's seventh in a row at home and helped them keep pace in the frantic scramble for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Capitals all-star Alex Ovechkin, meantime, had a quiet night mustering only two shots in 20:36 of ice time.

Earlier in the day, the Capitals got one forward back from injured reserve and lost another for the season.

Left wing Matt Pettinger, who had missed the previous 10 games with a broken thumb, returned to the lineup and skated on the shutdown line with Boyd Gordon and Alexandre Giroux, the Quebec City native who made his Montreal debut before about a dozen friends and family.

Pettinger's return, however, came the same day Ben Clymer was told during a meeting with General Manager George McPhee and Coach Glen Hanlon to end his season and have surgery to repair the sports hernia injury that has dogged him since early October.

It's the same abdominal ailment that former Capitals Jeff Friesen, Richard Zednik and Jamie Heward and current captain Chris Clark suffered from over the past year. The recovery time is generally six to eight weeks.

It's a bitter end to a difficult season for the 28-year-old, who began the year as a defenseman. Hanlon ended the experiment after 12 games and moved him back to forward. The midseason switch, the injury and a reduction in playing time all contributed to Clymer's struggles, Hanlon said. The checking line winger, who amassed seven goals and 13 assists, was a healthy scratch eight times, including seven consecutive games in February.

As for Pettinger, his thumb is still sore. But he felt it was important to return because he wants to help his teammates finish the season with as many wins as possible.

But even the return of a key player -- and a strong start -- couldn't help the Capitals overcome the bevy of mistakes they committed against the Canadiens.

Chris Clark gave the Capitals an early 1-0 lead after Alexander Semin's wrist shot from the slot hit him on the shoulder on its way past Jaroslav Halak (27 saves). The goal was originally given to Semin, but was later changed.

Kovalev brought the Canadiens right back at 8:59 after jamming the puck between Kolzig's skate and goal post on a wrap-around.

The score remained 2-1 despite a penalty-plagued second period for both teams. Kolzig was key to keeping the Canadiens' league-best power play from blowing open the game. But he was virtually helpless to stop Plekanec's wrist shot from point-blank range at 15:04.

"Individual mistakes ended up costing us," Hanlon said. "And it's tough to win hockey games when you don't score goals."

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