Capitals' Opener Is a Net Loss

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2008

ATLANTA, Oct. 10 -- With one of the NHL's most potent lineups, the Washington Capitals aren't expected to have problems producing goals this season. Preventing them, though, may prove to be an issue, if Friday's ugly 7-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers was any indication.

In the season opener for both teams at Philips Arena, defenseman Mike Green (two goals, one assist) and winger Alexander Semin (one goal, two assists) helped the Capitals rally from a 3-0 deficit and begin the third period tied at 4. But Alex Ovechkin missed a penalty shot early in the final frame, and the Thrashers pulled away on scores by Bryan Little, Colby Armstrong and Todd White, all in the span of 2 minutes 10 seconds.

"That's the first time since I've been involved with this team that we've given up seven goals," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Our special teams were not anywhere near the way we practiced or in preseason. I don't think we had the energy tonight. There were way too many guys not doing their jobs."

Boudreau didn't name names, but one of the players who didn't perform up to expectations was goaltender José Théodore. Signed in the offseason to be the Capitals' starter, Théodore was pulled after surrendering a fourth goal on 17 shots. He was replaced by Brent Johnson at 9 minutes 30 seconds of the second period after Slava Kozlov beat him on a power-play wrist shot from the circle. Théodore barely reacted as the puck zipped past his shoulder, dropping the Capitals behind 4-2.

"I was hoping that he would bounce back when we made it 3-2," Boudreau said. "The last thing I wanted to do was pull a goalie in his debut for us on opening night. But I thought that goal was weak and that we were still in the game."

Boudreau wouldn't say which goaltender will start Saturday night at Verizon Center, where the Capitals will raise their Southeast Division banner against the Chicago Blackhawks and Cristobal Huet, who, ironically, is the goalie who led Washington to the division title last spring. Huet made 25 saves Friday in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

After Théodore was pulled, Green scored a pair of power-play goals in 52 seconds late in the second period to pull the Capitals even at 4.

But instead of finishing off the Thrashers, the Capitals continued to look shoddy in their own end.

Ovechkin couldn't lift the puck past Kari Lehtonen (39 saves) on a penalty shot. Then the game opened up as both teams pushed for the go-ahead goal. The Thrashers ended up getting it from Little, whose second score of the night came with 6:03 left.

Goals from Armstrong and White, on the power play, put the Capitals away.

"We all know we can play better than that," said Johnson, who yielded three goals on 14 shots. "There are 81 games left and we have a big challenge tomorrow."

Before the game, Boudreau cautioned his players about overlooking the Thrashers, reminding them of what happened Thursday in Detroit, where the Red Wings raised the franchise's 11th Stanley Cup banner to the rafters but lost, 3-2, to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.

Boudreau wanted to ensure his team wouldn't suffer a similar letdown, not on this night especially, not against John Anderson, Atlanta's rookie coach and Boudreau's best friend for the past 35 years. It was their first meeting as NHL coaches.

Boudreau had the better team, but Anderson's got the bragging rights after a contest that turned Atlanta's way early.

After an apparent goal by Brooks Laich was disallowed because it was ruled to have been knocked in with a high stick, Théodore and the defense looked shaky as the Thrashers scored three consecutive goals.

Atlanta defenseman Ron Hainsey pinched in and chipped a rebound over Théodore to put the Thrashers ahead, 1-0, at 8:20. About three minutes later, Reasoner fired another rebound past Theodore. The Thrashers had taken only six shots yet were ahead 2-0.

While the defense shared some of the blame for the first two goals, the fault for the third appeared to fall squarely on Théodore. Little took a stretch pass from Niclas Havelid, split the Capitals' defenders and beat Théodore with an ordinary-looking wrist shot between the pads.

Capitals Notes: Ovechkin received 2:55 on the penalty kill. . . . Ilya Kovalchuk had two shots and an assist for Atlanta . . . Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear fought 18-year-old rookie Zach Bogosian in the final minute.

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