Shots Go Mostly Unheard for Caps

Alex Ovechkin, Cristobal Huet
Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has hit shot stopped by Canadiens goaltender Cristobal Huet in the third period. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2007

Whether it was a failure to bury their scoring chances, the mistakes at critical moments, the goaltending -- or some combination of the three -- none of that matters much for the Washington Capitals anymore.

What matters are points in the standings as they attempt to claw their way back into the playoff race. And last night, after getting off to a strong start against Montreal, the Capitals came away empty-handed, losing 5-2 at Verizon Center, and lost defenseman Brian Pothier to a broken thumb in the process.

Guillaume Latendresse and the opportunistic Canadiens beat goaltender Olie Kolzig three times on their first eight shots, and Cristobal Huet stopped 35 shots at the other end to send Washington to its third loss in four games. It also dropped interim coach Bruce Boudreau's record to 7-5-2.

"We had [outshot] them 22-8, and it was 3-1," Boudreau said. "I'm not saying they were bad goals. But sometimes you've got to have that save at the right time. I thought we struggled with that tonight."

It wasn't Kolzig's finest performance (he faced 21 shots), but players were willing to spread the blame.

"It wasn't just one thing," forward Brooks Laich said. "From forwards, to defense, to the goalie, I don't think we're very happy with how we performed tonight. We can't give away games like this."

Washington (13-19-3) had just returned from an unexpectedly successful road trip, gaining three of a possible four points from the Tampa Bay Lightning and NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings. It moved the Capitals within sight of the gaggle of teams struggling to stay in the playoff hunt. Last night, however, marked a big step backward.

"We played well in the first period," defenseman Tom Poti said. "Then we had that phantom call there at the end -- I wasn't even near the guy -- and they scored and that took away some momentum for us."

Indeed, the Capitals looked like the better team during the opening 20 minutes. But Poti was sent to the penalty box for tripping at 18 minutes 2 seconds.

Latendresse scored the first of two goals for the Canadiens 13 seconds later, flicking home a pass from behind the net from Saku Koivu.

Things got no better for the Capitals, who took the majority of the shots in the second period, too.

Tomas Plekanec put Montreal ahead 2-0 at 6:33 of the second session when he fired a puck off of Kolzig, who had gone down into the butterfly position to face a potential shot from Alexei Kovalev.

Plekanec had crashed the net, eluded Matt Pettinger, then buried the crossing pass from Kovalev off of Kolzig's skate to make it 2-0. It was the Canadiens' first shot of the period.

Capitals rookie Nicklas Backstrom cut the Capitals' deficit to 2-1 with a power-play goal at 9:10, when the center backhanded a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot past Huet.

But Montreal scored on its second shot of the period, too. Mathieu Dandenault beat Viktor Kozlov on a draw deep in Washington's end. The puck squirted out to Latendresse, who whipped a shot past Kolzig's blocker from the slot to make it 3-1.

"I thought we played a pretty good hockey game," Kolzig said. "It just seemed like every shot they had was a [scoring] chance and they ended up in the back of the net."

As for Pothier, it was unclear exactly how he got hurt. But he left the game in the middle of the second period and did not return. He's listed as week-to-week and was not available to reporters after the game.

Pothier had been averaging 19:12 of ice time and was second on the Capitals behind Mike Green in scoring among defensemen in scoring with 12 points. He joins forwards Chris Clark (strained groin muscle) and Boyd Gordon (broken right hand) on the sideline.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company