By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007
In their previous three games, the Washington Capitals were outshot by large margins. That, however, wasn't the problem last night at Verizon Center, where, for a change, they were in control for long stretches against the New York Islanders and took more shots on goal than their opponent.
The Capitals, instead, were undone by something else, a familiar deficiency, one that's dragged them down time and again in recent seasons: special teams.
The power play went 0 for 6, including a lengthy, futile five-on-three, while the Islanders scored three times with the man advantage. It added up to a 5-2 defeat, the Capitals' third straight after opening the season 3-0.
Bill Guerin recorded the ninth hat trick of his career and Rick DiPietro made 27 saves for the Islanders, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Alex Ovechkin and Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Capitals, who received 16 saves from Olie Kolzig.
"We're going to get in tomorrow and get to work on specialty teams," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "There's ebbs and flows in all specialty teams and we're going to ride our way out of this."
Hanlon promised to make some adjustments to the power play, which, despite the addition of skilled free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti over the summer, is 4 for 31 (12.9 percent) this season. The unit, which was again without its second best weapon, Alexander Semin (sprained right ankle), mustered only one shot on DiPietro during a 52-second five-on-three in the second period. It was the fourth two-man advantage this season in which the Capitals came up empty.
"The only thing I wasn't happy with was the power play," Hanlon said. "We have to make some changes. We are what we are. We've got offensive players, but maybe we'll make the mix a little different."
The penalty kill, which was minus center Boyd Gordon (back spasms), wasn't any better. The Islanders' power play went 3 for 5, with one of the goals coming on a two-man advantage.
"We should be able to get away with missing a couple of guys," captain Chris Clark said. "But that was a big part of it. On the penalty kill, if a couple of those don't go in, and on the power play, a couple of those do go in, it's a different game."
The wretched power play and penalty kills spoiled what nearly was a special third period for the Capitals, who rallied from a two-goal deficit on back-to-back goals by Ovechkin and Fleischmann.
But right after Fleischmann's game-tying goal, his first point of the season, Clark was whistled for tripping. Less than a minute later, Islanders defenseman Bryan Berard scored what proved to be the winner on the power play, a long blast from the point that slithered underneath Kolzig at 9 minutes 39 seconds.
"It was the wrong time of the game to take a penalty like that," Clark said. "I need to be smarter than that."
Guerin added his second and third goals of the night to put the game out of reach and elicit a booming round of boos from the announced crowd of 11,036.
"Berard's goal was huge, gave us a big lift," Guerin said. "That goal gave us confidence to play aggressive again."
The result, in a way, was payback for the Islanders, who on Oct. 8 at Nassau Coliseum, outshot the Capitals 31-12 but wound up losing, 2-1.
New York left wing Sean Bergenheim opened the scoring at 15:17 of the first period when he slipped free of Fleischmann in front of the net, gathered Miroslav Satan's misfired shot and flipped the puck past Kolzig, who had been hugging the post.
Kolzig had no one to blame but himself for the Islanders' second goal. Already down a man, Kolzig was whistled for jabbing Trent Hunter in the face with his blocker glove, setting up a lengthy five-on-three for the visitors. Guerin made him pay, firing a slap shot from the top of the slot through Kolzig's pads to extend New York's edge to 2-0 at 7:38 of the second period.
"We're fighting through some tough stuff right now," Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We're figuring it out. We were happy with the effort. But again, some penalties and tough bounces for us, some big goals for them, and that's it."