By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Philadelphia Flyers had been the only Eastern Conference team that Alex Ovechkin had not scored against this season. That changed last night at Verizon Center, where the reigning MVP added to his league-leading goal total. But Ovechkin's 44th goal of the season turned out to be the only highlight as the Washington Capitals misfired on numerous scoring chances early, then surrendered three goals in 3 minutes 19 seconds late before falling, 4-2, in front of a record ninth consecutive sellout crowd.
"That was theme of the whole night: not cashing in on chances," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had five or six breakaways. Brooks Laich hit the net on his, but everyone else missed the net. If you don't score when you have the opportunities to, eventually the opportunities dry up and the other team gets opportunities."
Boudreau ticked off the missed chances afterward: Nicklas Backstrom hitting the post while short-handed in the first period. David Steckel missing the net moments later. Then a wide-open Mike Green failing to find the net a few minutes after that.
There were other misses, but those in particular came back to haunt the Capitals as they clung to a one-goal lead in the third period. In all, Washington put 35 shots on Flyers goaltender Antero Niittymaki, while 34 other attempts were either blocked or missed the net altogether.
The game's turning point came moments after Capitals' power play expired early. They almost immediately yielded a three-on-two and Scott Hartnell capitalized, tying the score at 2. Hartnell took a cross-ice pass from Joffrey Lupul and fired it underneath the crossbar past goalie José Theodore, who made 33 saves but allowed the Flyers three third-period goals in the course of only five shots.
Just 1:25 after Hartnell's goal, Jeff Carter staked the visitors to their first lead. Carter went hard to the net and snapped a rebound off a shot by Lupul behind Theodore. The Capitals' collapse was complete a few minutes later. With 7:30 left to play, Flyers grinder Arron Asham -- on the fourth line's only shift of the third period -- streaked around defenseman Jeff Schultz and deposited the puck behind Theodore to put the Flyers ahead 4-2.
Although the delayed penalty assessed to Schultz on the play never made the score sheet, the nine minors assessed to the Capitals were the subject of much discussion after the game. Boudreau said he called out a few repeat offenders behind closed doors after a second straight game in which the team was assessed nine minor penalties. Washington is the NHL's fifth-most penalized team with 314 minor infractions.
"There comes a time when you have to start doing something about it," Boudreau said. "Maybe that time is now instead of just talking about it."
Asked if he meant benching players, he said: "Yeah. There's a couple out there."
Added Laich: "This is the new NHL. They want to limit the obstruction and we just seem to take lazy, undisciplined, sometimes they can be criticized as selfish penalties. Every game we shoot the puck in our zone over the glass. We've got to limit that. We spent basically [the second period] short-handed."
The three Flyers goals in the third period upended what had begun as a potentially big night for the Capitals against the rival that vanquished them from the playoffs last spring.
Nicklas Backstrom scored his third goal in four games on the power play only 1:48 into the first period to put the Capitals ahead 1-0. With Scottie Upshall in the penalty box for interference, Sergei Fedorov cleanly won a face-off deep in the Flyers' zone back to Ovechkin, who wound up for a slap shot but instead slipped a sneaky pass to Backstrom in the slot.
Then it was the Capitals' turn to prove they can be aggressive on the penalty kill, too. But Backstrom hit the post while Steckel and Green also missed short-handed opportunities in the closing minutes of the first period.
Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead 2-0 at 4:19 of the second period with his 13th goal in the past 12 games. Ovechkin intercepted a weak clearing attempt by Carter in the slot, then fired the puck past Niittymaki as he collided with Green.
But the Capitals couldn't stay out of the penalty box -- again. With Milan Jurcina and Alex Semin banished for slashing and clearing the puck over the glass, respectively, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux scored to make it 2-1 to send the game into the third period, during which the Capitals have allowed eight goals in three games against the Flyers, more than any opponent.
"We had some good chances, but we didn't make the most of them tonight," Boyd Gordon said.
The penalties "didn't help. We have to find a way to stay out of the box. It disrupts everyone's ice time and keeps the skilled guys off the ice, so we have to find a way to minimize our penalties or it's going to burn us."