Without Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Fall Short in 2-1 Loss to Toronto Maple Leafs

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009

Alex Ovechkin was ruled out a few hours before the opening faceoff, then Tom Poti left only seconds after it.

That was an ominous beginning to another forgettable night for the skidding Washington Capitals, who fell for the third straight game at Verizon Center to an opponent beneath them in the standings.

While the Capitals' effort was an improvement over the previous two defeats -- lopsided losses to Florida and Carolina -- it wasn't enough against the trade-depleted Toronto Maple Leafs, who escaped with a 2-1 victory despite trading away their second- and fourth-leading scorers at Wednesday's deadline and starting a waiver-wire pickup in net who had not played in the NHL in almost two months.

"We didn't finish and yet he made some great saves," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Martin Gerber, who finished with 37 saves in his Toronto debut. "We had enough chances to win two or three games."

The Capitals have had losing streaks of three games twice previously this season. But this one has a different feel, perhaps because each of the defeats has come on home ice, a place where they had been almost unbeatable. Until recently, that is. They've dropped five of their past seven games in the District, scoring one goal twice and two goals three times.

Washington still owns a comfortable 11-point lead in the Southeast Division and the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. But the slump is starting to erode the swagger the team once had.

"We're in that situation where guys are holding their sticks really tight," Boudreau said. "Guys are pressing pretty hard, and we have to get them to play the [way] that won them 40 games already."

Winger Eric Fehr added: "It's definitely tough. We lost one of our best defenders and the best goal scorer in the league. That's not exactly how we wanted it to go."

For only the fourth time in his three-plus seasons, Ovechkin missed a game, sidelined by a bruised heel on his right foot. The reigning MVP was injured when he wandered near the net during Wednesday's practice and was struck by a slap shot off the stick of assistant coach Dean Evason. Ovechkin said during last night's game that he has not had an MRI exam or X-rays and does not believe the injury is serious.

"We want to take it easy and make sure it's going to be okay," Ovechkin said between periods. The Capitals have two days until their next game, a matinee with Pittsburgh. But Ovechkin's status for that game might not be known until tomorrow.

"We're going to see," he said. "Probably. There's no swelling, but it hurts."

Ovechkin, though, wasn't the only surprise scratch. Poti tweaked his groin muscle, and the veteran defenseman returned to the locker room after a seven-second shift to start the game. Without Poti, Coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to move center Sergei Fedorov to defense, and that left the Capitals minus a forward.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company