Needing Points Against Division Rival, Caps Come Up With Nothing

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008

If the Washington Capitals fail to qualify for the playoffs, it will be games such as last night's that are going to haunt them in the offseason.

They were facing the Atlanta Thrashers, a Southeast Division opponent they're battling for position, a team that had gone to a shootout the previous night in Atlanta, one that was minus its best player in Ilya Kovalchuk.

Yet it was Kari Lehtonen and the Thrashers who treated it like a playoff game, and they scratched out a 2-0 victory before 17,205 at Verizon Center.

Lehtonen stopped 36 shots to hand the Capitals their second shutout in three games and propel the Thrashers into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the division. The Capitals, meantime, remained three points back with 29 games left to play.

"I don't think we were hungry enough tonight," Capitals defenseman Mike Green said. "And it shows because we didn't score any goals. Maybe it was [Lehtonen's] night. But anytime we don't score any goals, it's because we aren't going to the net or we're not creating things around the net."

Coach Bruce Boudreau pinned the defeat on two deficiencies: the lack of consistent scoring from someone not named Alex Ovechkin and the unwillingness of his players to create havoc in front of the net.

Lehtonen "played really solid, I don't think there's any denying that," Boudreau said. "But every shot he saw, except by Alex that just hit him in the glove. It wasn't like there was such a barrage of shots that he was making unbelievable saves. He made some pretty good saves. But we have to do better.

"Some other guys have got to step up to the plate and score some goals. You can't rely on Alex every night."

Ovechkin, one game after notching four goals and an assist in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens, took a game-high seven shots on goal, including one with 51 seconds remaining that Lehtonen didn't see. But the Thrashers' goalie was in perfect position and the puck settled harmlessly in his glove as the Capitals attacked six-on-five.

Moments after that save, Marian Hossa scored an empty-net goal to clinch Atlanta's third consecutive win overall and second straight win without Kovalchuk, its leading scorer with 38 goals. Kovalchuk has a right knee injury, but could be back early next week.

The Thrashers mustered only 12 shots on Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig, who turned away the first 10 attempts he faced. The 11th, however, came off the stick of Todd White, who stopped a pass with his skate and in one motion fired the puck past Kolzig from the circles to make it 1-0 at 11 minutes 34 seconds of the third period. White has four goals in five games against the Capitals this season.

Lehtonen took it from there, making several key saves in the final seconds, including a blocker stop on Nicklas Backstrom from point-blank range with about six minutes remaining. He also stopped Ovechkin on a rush and then wrapped things up with the timely and fortunate glove save on Ovechkin in the final minute.

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