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Back at Full Strength, Caps Remain in a Rut
Panthers 4, Capitals 3

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Olie Kolzig sat in his locker stall, still wearing his sweat-soaked hockey pants, pads and skates a full 15 minutes after last night's 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals' fourth in row and eighth in nine games.

Leaning back and staring blankly into the distance, the veteran goaltender contemplated the Capitals' slump, last-place record and fleeting playoff hopes.

"It's not a lot of fun right now," Kolzig said. "I honestly can't put my finger on it. We definitely should have won that game. When it rains, it pours. It's just the way it's going right now."

At full strength for the first time in nearly a month after welcoming Alexander Semin back into the lineup from an ankle injury, the Capitals displayed a sense of urgency over the final 10 minutes after lackluster first and second periods. But goals by Semin and Chris Clark weren't enough to make up for 50 minutes of tentative play, not nearly enough to reverse the Capitals' losing ways.

"It's not a matter of not caring or not trying," Coach Glen Hanlon said after the team dropped to 2-6 at home. "There was likely some nervousness out there. They're looking at it as everything is on the line. It was almost a tale of two different teams, the team that started the game and the team that ended the game."

Hanlon became the target of a group of disgruntled fans, who late in the second period began booing and chanting, "Fire Hanlon." Hanlon has been behind the bench since December 2003 and presided over some lean times for the franchise.

But this season was supposed to be different after an offseason spending spree added three veterans to a core that already included Kolzig, Alex Ovechkin and Semin, raising expectations.

But nearly a quarter of the way in, the Capitals find themselves with 13 points in 20 games, dead last in the league standings.

"If this were in Montreal or Toronto, Vancouver or Philly, we would have heard that a long time ago," Kolzig said. "Our play [here] is nothing to write home about. They have every right. You play like that the first two periods and we lose again at home, they have every reason to feel that way."

Kolzig didn't agree, however, with the fans' suggestion that a coaching change is in order.

"I'm sick of being asked about coaching changes," he said. "That's the furthest thing that needs to happen here. How many shocks do you need? I don't know."

The fans turned on the home team after the Olli Jokinen (two goals) and the Panthers, who entered as losers of six of their previous eight, went up 3-1 late in the second period.

The play started with an errant pass deep in the Florida zone. Seconds later, Richard Zednik was racing into the Capitals' zone. He faked his trademark wraparound, then threw the puck off Kolzig. Jokinen, the Panthers' captain, flipped the puck in off Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier.

Making the loss even more painful for Washington was that it came on a night when some of the longtime players said goodbye to a friend. Center Brian Sutherby was traded to Anaheim for a second-round draft pick in 2009 in order to make room for Semin on the 23-man active roster.

"I've been expecting something to happen for a while now," he said earlier in the day before boarding a flight to Southern California. "Every day I came to the rink not knowing if something was going to happen."

Sutherby, 25, finished his Capitals career with 26 goals and 61 points in 259 games spread over six seasons.

It turns out he got out of town just in time.

David Booth put the Panthers ahead 1-0 only 3 minutes 33 seconds into the game when he inadvertently redirected Ruslan Salei's point shot past a screened Kolzig.

Moments later, Capitals defenseman Mike Green was assessed a hooking penalty, and Washington appeared ready to go down two.

But Brooks Laich stripped the puck from Jokinen and put a short-handed shot between Vokoun's pads to tie the score at 1.

The Capitals were awarded two-man advantage for 51 seconds moments later, but came up empty, extending their five-on-three futility this season.

"It's only a quarter of the way in," Kolzig said. "But I'm not going to lie to you -- we've got an uphill battle. It's getting to the point where we've got to put some wins together. But it's got to start with one win."

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