By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2009
Alexander Semin gave the Washington Capitals their fastest lead of the season and Alex Ovechkin netted another milestone late in the third period.
Unfortunately for them, what happened between those two goals led to their demise against the improving but still mediocre Los Angeles Kings.
The Capitals yielded three breakaway goals, permitted a short-handed goal for the second straight game and were roundly criticized after a sloppy 5-4 loss at Verizon Center that Coach Bruce Boudreau called "unacceptable."
The defeat snapped Washington's three-game winning streak, but the really bad news came later: The team announced after the game that backup goaltender Brent Johnson will have surgery to repair a labral tear in his hip and will likely miss eight weeks.
Johnson, who has been battling the injury since late November, said he realized Sunday against Ottawa that he could no longer play through the pain. He's scheduled to have the procedure early next week.
"It just wasn't cooperating," said Johnson, who is 12-6-2 with a 2.81 goals against average and .908 save percentage. "Sometimes it doesn't let me go one way. I noticed it a lot in games, especially the other night in the first period. It ended up killing me. It's something that has to be done."
The loss of Johnson leaves the Capitals without a proven backup goaltender or a second option should José Theodore falter or suffer an injury. Prospect Michal Neuvirth, 20, has backed up Theodore the past two games, but he has not played in an NHL game (and has appeared in only eight American Hocley League games). And Neuvirth was recalled because Simeon Varlamov, the organization's top goaltending prospect, is sidelined with a knee injury.
"It means we suck it up," Boudreau said. "We've lived with injuries all year long, so we're going to continue to face adversity and play through it. With Varlamov out, we have Neuvirth or Daren Machesney to choose from."
One possibility Boudreau did not mention was making a trade to acquire a veteran goaltender.
The revelation of Johnson's decision to have surgery overshadowed one of the Capitals' shoddiest home performances of the season -- even if it did end with an announced crowd of 18,277 sitting on the edge of the seats. The loss dropped the Capitals to 21-4-1 at home.
Semin put the Capitals ahead just 15 seconds into the game. But by the midway point of the third period, they found themselves down 4-2.
That's when Ovechkin decided to make things interesting. He scored with 9 minutes 28 seconds remaining to make it a one-goal game and, in the process, join Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux as the only players to score 200 goals in their first four seasons.
But it wasn't enough on a night when Washington was so undisciplined. Because with 1:33 left, Kyle Calder skated in from the corner, then jammed in a rebound to put the Kings ahead 5-3. Brooks Laich redirected a Mike Green slap shot with 1:06 to play to cut the Capitals' deficit to 5-4 and set up a wild final few moments. But Jonathan Quick denied Laich with a glove save with about 25 seconds remaining and stopped Green as time expired. In all, Quick faced 22 shots in the third period (to the Kings' five).
The defeat was the Capitals' second this season to Los Angeles, which beat them 5-2 at Staples Center in November.
"The first two periods were as bad as we've played all year," Boudreau said. "We weren't playing anywhere near what we were supposed to be playing. The first wasn't pretty, but the second was downright ugly."
Anze Kopitar scored the second of his two goals only 13 seconds into the second period on a breakaway, and 51 seconds later, Michal Handzus scored short-handed to make it 3-1. Later, Patrick O'Sullivan scored the Kings' third goal of the period.
"We would keep coming back, and they would get one and then another one," Capitals forward Matt Bradley. "You can't win the game when you have to keep coming back like that. It's tough because we got behind in the first two periods."
Capitals Notes: Forward Viktor Kozlov missed his first game with a groin muscle pull he suffered in New Jersey on Tuesday. . . . Captain Chris Clark had successful surgery on his right wrist. He will miss the remainder of the regular season. . . . Laich suffered a lower leg contusion after blocking a shot late in the second period. Though he finished the game, a team spokesman said he's day-to-day. . . . With his goal last night, Ovechkin has now scored against 28 teams. Only San Jose has shut him out. . . . Nine of the Capitals' 16 regulation losses have come against Western Conference opponents.