Capitals Doomed By Slow Start

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MONTREAL, Jan. 29 -- The Washington Capitals came to Montreal hoping to continue their surprising surge in the standings, their sights set on first place in the Southeast Division.

Instead, they put forth their worst effort of the Bruce Boudreau era and left Bell Center on Tuesday humbled following a 4-0 loss to goaltender Cristobal Huet and the streaking Canadiens.

"When you start thinking you are better than you are, and forget what got you there, then usually the result is what happened tonight," said Boudreau, who also questioned his team's desire.

Goaltender Brent Johnson stopped 36 shots for Washington in his second consecutive start, but he was too often left to fend for himself, particularly in the first period when Montreal opened a 3-0 lead thanks to a power-play strike and a short-handed tally.

The Canadiens didn't let up and Huet made certain there would be no rally for the Capitals, turning aside 35 shots to hand the visitors their fourth shutout this season. Alex Kovalev scored on the power play with 47 seconds remaining to irk the Washington bench.

"They had a pretty comfortable lead with a minute to go," Boudreau said. "When it was 4-0, their defense was pinching and everything else. . . . We get to play them Thursday" at Verizon Center.

The defeat, combined with Carolina's 3-1 win over the New York Rangers, not only prevented the Capitals from vaulting into first place in the Southeast, it dropped them three points behind the Hurricanes.

"We got outworked tonight," Matt Pettinger said. "There's no real excuses. We didn't have any answers for them."

Alex Ovechkin, who recorded four shots on goal, including one that smacked the crossbar in the second period, added: "We're disappointed. We lose the first period and it's hard to get back. Huet save everything."

But the Capitals' problems went deeper than Huet's saves and a few missed opportunities, Boudreau said.

"We didn't win the battles," he said. "You look at the one-on-one battles, and the team that wants to win the most usually wins the game. We didn't compete hard enough. We've been successful when we win the one-on-one battles, and when there was a one-on-one battle in the first period, they came out with the puck."

Boudreau could have been referring to any one of several first-period plays in which the Capitals were out-hustled.

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