By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Washington Capitals played with energy, poise and a hint of desperation last night. But, as they learned again, effort doesn't count on the scoreboard.
The Capitals outshot the Pittsburgh Penguins 31-22 yet managed to squeeze only one of those attempts past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and fell, 2-1, before the largest crowd of the season at Verizon Center. It was the Capitals' fourth consecutive loss overall, fifth in a row against the Penguins and left them searching for answers.
Through seven games, Washington has scored a mere 14 goals. Alex Ovechkin didn't need a calculator afterward to understand that an average of two goals per game won't get it done.
"It doesn't matter how many goals they score, we need to try to score more," said Ovechkin, who recorded a game-high eight shots on goal but did not factor in the Capitals' lone goal. "We have chances, but sometimes we just missed it."
Chris Clark, who failed to finish a pass from Ovechkin in the final minutes and remains scoreless, said: "The effort was there, but this is getting old now. We've been first on pucks, but we haven't buried our chances. I had two pucks in the goal-mouth. I have to bear down a little bit harder and find a way to get that puck into the net."
Jordan Staal and Ryan Whitney (set up by a slick pass by Sidney Crosby on the power play) scored for the Penguins. The Capitals, meantime, received a solid performance from surprise starter Brent Johnson, a goal from Brian Pothier and 11 shots in the third period.
But it wasn't enough.
"We played an excellent game at both ends of the rink," said Johnson, who found out after the morning skate that he was starting. "We just couldn't buy one. A couple of times, one sneaked by him and he didn't know where it was. It was a couple of bad bounces for us."
That Johnson got the start instead of Olie Kolzig came as a shock to even Johnson. Kolzig struggled mightily in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, yielding five goals on 21 shots, but he almost always starts big games at home on a Saturday night.
Coach Glen Hanlon said he played a "hunch" when making the decision. Asked about his team's offensive struggles, Hanlon again chose his words carefully.
"We have two players who played in the American Hockey League last year and one player who has played in seven games," he said, referring to forwards Joe Motzko, Tomas Fleischmann and rookie Nicklas Backstrom. "If you go through the rosters of a lot of teams, that's not their makeup of their top six offensive forwards."
The lack of offense is a confounding development for the Capitals, who signed free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozloz and Tom Poti over the summer, to aid Ovechkin and the power play. But the trio has accounted for only four goals and the power play is an anemic 4 for 34.
Help, though, could be on the way. The Capitals' second leading scorer from last season, winger Alexander Semin, who has missed six games with a sprained right ankle, is expected to begin practicing on Monday and could be in the lineup next week.
Semin's deft wrist shot sure would have come in handy last night, when both teams had their share of end-to-end rushes and scoring opportunities.
Pothier put the Capitals, who wore their white jerseys at home for the first time this season, ahead with his first goal of the year on a slap shot from just inside the blueline. But after dominating the first period, the Capitals ceded control in the second. The Penguins edged them in shots, 11-8, enjoyed four power plays and scored twice, one with the man advantage.
Staal's goal at 3 minutes 58 seconds tied the score at 1 and came eight seconds after the expiration of Shaone Morrisonn's boarding penalty.
But the Capitals' offensive futility was underscored moments later, when Backstrom came millimeters from getting his first career NHL goal. His shot from the slot hit Fleury's glove, then trickled into the crease, where it nicked the post. Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton alertly cleared the loose puck with his glove.
It appeared the Capitals might escape the period tied, but then defenseman Mike Green was whistled for high sticking Crosby. Fifty seconds later, Crosby sent a cross-ice pass to Whitney, who fired a wrist shot past Johnson's glove to put the Penguins ahead 2-1.
"He made a great pass," Hanlon said. "That was one of the plays that cost us. He made a play. We can live with it."