Washington Capitals' 6-2 Home Loss to Florida Panthers Sends Fans Flurrying Out

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009

The Washington Capitals set a record for consecutive sellouts yesterday when an 11th straight capacity crowd packed into Verizon Center. But by the middle of the third period, the arena was eerily silent and emptying out fast.

While the steady stream of exiting fans might have been considering the approaching snowstorm, their departure more than likely was because of the Capitals' effort, or lack thereof, during a 6-2 loss that Coach Bruce Boudreau called "discouraging" and left him questioning the leadership inside the locker room.

The defeat was Washington's third in the past five games at home and worst in the District since a 5-1 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2007, the final day of the Glen Hanlon era.

"We stunk," Boudreau said. "I'm not sure how to even characterize it. We got beat to every loose puck. They seemed like they had the puck on the power play for the whole two minutes in our zone every time. I can't sugarcoat it, and I can't find excuses for it. It's starting to get a little discouraging."

The Capitals' performance was a letdown in nearly every sense of the word. The exceptional effort that was displayed 24 hours earlier in Boston, where they claimed an emotional 4-3 overtime victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins, was nowhere to be found. The focus they had exhibited the previous afternoon was absent, too. So was the discipline.

Florida's 26th-ranked power play went 3 for 3 in the first 14 minutes 19 seconds to send the visitors into the first intermission with a 4-1 lead. The Panthers' 17 first-period shots, meantime, matched their 60-minute total in Saturday's 7-2 loss in New Jersey.

Starting goaltender José Theodore was pulled after 20 minutes. But not because of his play, according to Boudreau who said, "I had to protect him."

"There are no excuses for what we did today," winger Matt Bradley said. "Every guy was not prepared."

What concerned Boudreau most was the increasing frequency with which the Southeast Division leaders have suffered letdowns against teams behind them in the standings. After a 4-1 loss to the woeful Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 20, Boudreau put the Capitals through their paces at practice the following morning. But he won't do it again today. Instead, he gave the players a day off to rest and reflect.

Asked whether there was a leadership void with captain Chris Clark sidelined for the season, Boudreau said: "As a coach, you'd like to see [people take charge]. We were just discussing that, as coaches. You know, it's tough for the coach to come in there every day and yell when we're not doing well. Someone's got to take initiative in the room."

Boudreau also singled out all six defensemen for criticism. Jeff Schultz was on the ice for five goals and Mike Green was assessed a pair of minor penalties.

"That was as bad a defensive [effort], the six 'D,' that I've seen them play all year," Boudreau said.

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