Caps Start Poorly, Lose Again

Andre Roy, left, punches the Capitals' Donald Brashear in the second period. Washington lost its second straight and seventh of eight.
Andre Roy, left, punches the Capitals' Donald Brashear in the second period. Washington lost its second straight and seventh of eight. (Chris O'meara - AP Photo)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007

TAMPA, Nov. 16 -- Games played in mid-November rarely carry the weight that this one did for the reeling Washington Capitals.

But instead of putting together the mistake-free, 60-minute effort needed to beat one of the NHL's hottest teams, Washington's night got off to a rotten start and it ended predictably with a 5-2 loss to Vincent Lecavalier and the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Capitals' loss was their second straight and seventh in eight games. It also saw them sink into sole possession of the worst record in the NHL, with a mere 13 points in 19 games.

As the dejected players peeled off pieces of padding in the silent visitors' locker room, they struggled to describe their disappointment after coming up short in such a critical game, one that for a while, appeared to be up for grabs.

"It's hard," said winger Matt Pettinger, seated in his locker stall, still wearing his skates more than 10 minutes after the final horn. "For some reason, I can't put my finger on it, we're not getting rewarded for our effort. We're creating chances, we're just for some reason finding ways to lose. I've never seen anything like it."

Some of the Capitals' problems at St. Pete Times Forum on Friday night were caused by the Lightning, which has won five in row. Others, however, were of their own doing. As has become a common refrain this season, there were far too many missed scoring opportunities and too many costly turnovers from a club that couldn't afford anything less than two points in the standings.

"It sounds like a broken record," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "Normally when you lose some games like this, you go to practice the next day and you have certain things to work on. What do you work on?"

The frustration felt by Hanlon and his players stems from an ongoing problem for the Capitals this season: They're have problems putting the puck in the net. The defeat marked the 13th time this season they've scored two or fewer goals. In fact, only St. Louis had scored fewer goals than the Capitals entering Friday's action.

Their futility Friday was underscored by a pair of back-to-back power plays late. Lightning defenseman Doug Janick was sent off twice in the opening 5 minutes 30 seconds of the third period, but the Capitals couldn't squeeze one of their four shots on goal during that span past Johan Holmqvist (28 saves). Washington's power play finished 0 for 4, and is 0 for 10 the past three games.

Washington recovered nicely after Lecavalier put the Lightning ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal only 1:31 into the game on back-to-back strikes by Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, which gave Washington a 2-1 lead.

But Tampa Bay's Jan Hlavac turned a brutal turnover in the Capitals' end into a goal in the final minutes of the first period, and Capitals failed to keep pace in the second. Brad Richards fired a shot over Brent Johnson (19 saves) on the power play and defenseman Paul Ranger beat the backup netminder with a rather pedestrian looking wrist shot with 28 seconds left.

Then came the turning point. Moments after Ranger's goal, Holmqvist stopped Ovechkin on a semi-breakaway with a pad to make sure the Lightning took a 4-2 lead into the second intermission.

Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis added an empty-net goal in the waningseconds of the third to provide the final margin.

Earlier in the day, the Capitals got some good news. Alexander Semin, the club's second most dangerous scorer behind Ovechkin, could be back in the lineup Monday against Florida at Verizon Center. If he plays against the Panthers, it will mark only the third time this season that Hanlon has had his entire lineup.

"Tonight, it was timely mistakes," said captain Chris Clark, who played on a line with rookie Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin.

Clark didn't name any names, but he could have been talking about any number of Capitals.

The Lightning's first goal, which marked the fifth time this season the Capitals surrendered a goal on their opponent's first shot of the game, came 20 seconds after defenseman Jeff Schultz was sent to the penalty box for cross checking. Or Clark could have been talking about the Lightning's second goal, which might not have occurred if not for a poor pass from Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina, who sent a clearing pass onto Hlavac's stick.

Jurcina played a few more shifts, but did not play at all in the second or third period.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company