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.
Boudreau addressed his team after a particularly lethargic first period.
It wasn't weird for the Capitals to run into penalty trouble -- they are tied for the third most minor penalties with 329 -- but it was odd to see the Panthers' power play thrive. Florida had not registered a single power-play goal in five previous games and had only connected on two of its previous 42 opportunities. In fact, the three power-play goals were the most the Panthers had tallied in a game since March 8, 2008.
"It was lack of being prepared on the first couple of penalties because they were out-skating us," Boudreau said. "So we had to take them from behind, which are lazy penalties. One of the reasons we won [in Boston] is because we took [only] four penalties."
Against the Panthers, the Capitals were whistled for six minors (to Florida's two).
Alexander Semin opened the scoring on the power play only 86 seconds into the game. Panthers winger David Booth was stopped by Theodore on a penalty shot moments later (Theodore was whistled for throwing his stick at the puck), then Stephen Weiss, Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester each scored on the power play. Richard Zednik scored at even strength late in the period to continue the Capitals' implosion.
Theodore was replaced by Michal Neuvirth at the start of the second period. Goals by Florida's Jassen Cullimore and Michael Frolik and another by Washington's Alex Ovechkin with 22 seconds remaining provided the final margin.
What happened in the third period didn't matter much. This one was lost in the opening 15 minutes.
"The Panthers came in desperate," forward Donald Brashear said. "They gave a hard effort and we didn't match it. Hopefully it won't happen again."
Capitals Notes: Viktor Kozlov was held out because of tightness in the groin muscle that caused him to miss nine games recently. Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey as a replacement. . . . Struggling center Michael Nylander was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was scratched for the fifth straight game. . . .
Asked to respond to Don Cherry's criticism of Ovechkin's emotional goal celebrations on "Hockey Night in Canada" on Saturday, Boudreau shot back: "I love Don Cherry. But I think he was a little over the top yesterday on Alex. As much as I really like the guy, he was wrong."