Capitals Fall to Panthers, 5-3

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Late in the second period, just when it appeared things couldn't get any worse for the Washington Capitals, they did.

Florida Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe fired a shot from the point that appeared to be headed wide of the net. But instead of clanking harmlessly off the end boards, the puck ricocheted off two Capitals and wound up in the net.

McCabe's tally, the Panthers' third in a span of 5 minutes 50 seconds, was emblematic of last night's unsightly 5-3 loss at Verizon Center, where the injury-plagued Capitals were undone by a combination of misfortune and what Coach Bruce Boudreau called an "unacceptable" effort.

"It the least energy we've had all year," said Boudreau, whose team suffered its first regulation defeat at home this season (9-1-1). "We didn't play very good. We didn't play with a lot of life. It's what I said in the room today: It's not me coming into the room and yelling at you. You guys should start yelling at each other, because there were some guys who definitely weren't playing well tonight."

The Capitals, coming off a 3-0 loss in Columbus and still missing seven players because of injury, including stars Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov, were lethargic from the outset.

They still managed to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a power-play goal by Nicklas Backstrom. But their night devolved from there, and in a hurry.

The Panthers scored the next four goals, two of them on fluky bounces, and Florida goaltender Craig Anderson thwarted a late comeback bid before an announced crowd of 16,792, the first non-sellout in four games.

There was plenty of blame to go around. Boudreau criticized the defense, which, because of the injuries, had only two regulars (Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina). The coach also was not overly impressed with José Theodore, who has yielded four or more goals in seven of his 15 starts. Last night he faced 21 shots (the Panthers' final goal was an empty netter).

"I thought the first goal was gettable," Boudreau said. "But [Theodore] was like the rest of the team. The biggest problem is when your goalie is like the rest of the team, he stands out like a sore thumb."

Ville Peltonen beat Theodore with a wrist shot from the circle to even the score early in the second period. But Theodore got little help from his teammates on the next two Panthers goals.

With Alex Ovechkin (assist, minus-2) in the penalty box for goaltender interference, center David Steckel attempted to make a cross-ice pass in front of Washington's goal. The puck never reached its intended target -- Morrisonn -- because it deflected off of Karl Alzner's skate before slipping between Theodore's pads. The goal was credited to Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, the last Florida player to touch the puck.

"It was just a bad bounce, but I should have played it behind the net," Steckel said. "It was unfortunate."


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