'Mental Errors' Trip Up Capitals

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

SUNRISE, Fla., Feb. 15 -- Tomas Fleischmann scored about a minute into the third period to put the Washington Capitals ahead by one goal and seemingly in control of this critical Southeast Division matchup.

But instead of clamping down on Nathan Horton and the Florida Panthers, the Capitals let up and got careless, committing a pair of mistakes that each led to goals in Friday night's costly 4-2 loss at BankAtlantic Center.

The defeat was Washington's third in four games (1-2-1) as the Capitals dropped two points behind division leaders Carolina and Atlanta with 23 games remaining.

"We gave them four goals," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought when we were up 2-1, we looked like we were controlling the game pretty well. But I thought [defenseman Mike Green] was very lackadaisical on the second goal and the third goal was a shot from behind the net. Even the empty net, we gave it right to them."

"For the most part, we beat ourselves," he added.

Fleischmann's seventh goal of the season came 57 seconds into the third and gave the Capitals their first lead, 2-1.

It all unraveled from there.

Green's miscue deep in the Capitals' zone helped Horton tie the game at 2 exactly three minutes after Fleischmann's goal. Kamil Kreps then restored the Panthers' lead, 3-2, at 8 minutes 27 seconds thanks to another misplay deep in Washington's zone. Kreps chopped at the puck from slightly behind the net, flicking it off of goaltender Brent Johnson's leg and into the net. Johnson did not appear to be expecting a shot.

"Mental errors," Green said. "It seems that every mistake we make ends up in the back of the net."

Johnson, who was not particularly sharp, said: "They were all kind of weird plays. The third one, though, was obviously the killer."

The Capitals cannot afford to dwell on Friday's mistake-ridden defeat, or Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss in Atlanta. Not with the third and final game of their three-game Southeast Division swing looming Saturday night against the streaking Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Tomorrow is huge," defenseman John Erskine said. "We've got to win and try to get back in first."

Alex Ovechkin, the league's leading scorer, was without a point despite taking four shots on Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun (30 saves). He had scored at least one goal in four of the previous five games.

"He might not have played his best tonight," Boudreau said. "But I think we need to cut him a little slack when people are checking him tightly. We've come to expect so much every night. But sometimes he's not going to make every play."

It also didn't help that the Capitals also were without defenseman Tom Poti, the team's ice-time leader. He was injured in the first period of Wednesday's game and also is doubtful for Saturday's contest at St. Pete Times Forum. Washington is 3-7 this season without him.

Meantime, Boudreau shook up his forward combinations in an effort to coax more offense out his players. The first line consisted of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Fleischmann, while the second line included Alexander Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Matt Pettinger.

The promotion seemed to spark Fleischmann, who also had an assist. But it did little to help the Capitals snap out of their offensive funk. They haven't scored more than two goals in regulation in four games.

"I felt good," Fleischmann said. "Playing with those two guys is unbelievable. I also felt pretty good [switching] to the right side."

Washington registered only six shots in the opening 20 minutes and Florida took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a goal by Rostislav Olesz.

Olesz directed a wrist shot on net, which Johnson stopped with his pad. But Johnson sent the rebound directly to the slot. Olesz didn't miss the second time, flipping a backhander over Johnson's glove at 5:52.

Semin scored the Capitals' other goal on the power play at 1:12 of the second period.

Capitals Notes: Prospect Sami Lepisto was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League and joined the team at BankAtlantic Center. The 23-year-old defenseman did not play, but could be in the lineup Saturday. . . . The Capitals have killed off 19 straight short-handed situations. . . . Right wing Chris Clark (groin tendon) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) remain out indefinitely. . . .

Former Capitals coach Glen Hanlon has accepted the head coaching position with Helsinki Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League. Hanlon was fired by Washington on Nov. 22 and had one year remaining on his contract.

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