By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009
Washington Capitals center David Steckel said it's a lack of focus. Coach Bruce Boudreau said it's nerves. Defenseman Mike Green said it's likely a combination of the two.
All three, however, agreed that the Capitals cannot afford a third straight poor start tonight in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Capitals won Saturday, 3-2, but the Penguins registered the first six shots and grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Sidney Crosby only 4 minutes 9 seconds in. Washington wasn't much better in the opening minutes of Game 7 against the New York Rangers, who took eight of the first nine shots and snagged a 1-0 lead on a goal by Nik Antropov at 5:35.
"It seems like it takes a goal [against] or for the other team to take momentum away from us in the first 10 to 15 minutes for us to wake up," Steckel said. "I don't know if it's guys not being ready or if we need to skate harder in warmups to get us going, but we can't always start behind the eight ball. It's just about guys being ready and prepared."
Boudreau added: "We're in new territory for a lot of these guys. We went through a Game 7 where we had lost our last Game 7 and we went through our first start to a second-round series. There's not a trend yet. I don't like it. But I can at least justify why that's happened."
The slow starts have been somewhat of a surprise considering that the Capitals were one of the best first-period teams in the regular season. Their 86 first-period goals were second only to Boston's 87.
"I don't know what it is," Green said. "When we come out, we usually start a little slow. We usually end up being a third-period team. I don't know if it takes us that long to get focused or what, but we need to be focused from the drop of the puck."Malkin Cools Off
Evgeni Malkin, the league's regular season scoring champion, has gone four games without a goal after opening the playoffs with four in Pittsburgh's first three games.
In Game 1, he had a primary assist on Mark Eaton's goal but mustered only two shots on goal and was mostly a nonfactor.
"I'm not change my game," he said after the Penguins' practice yesterday at Verizon Center. "I play okay. Maybe more shoot the puck, play more aggressive."Penguins' Power Outage
The Penguins were 0 for 5 on the power play in Game 1, and Coach Dan Bylsma dedicated a decent portion of the practice session to working out the unit's kinks. The most noticeable tweak was putting Bill Guerin on the first unit in place of Chris Kunitz.
In Game 1, the Penguins had trouble setting up in the Capitals' end and managed only six shots. In the last five games, the unit, which features Malkin, Crosby and Sergei Gonchar, has one goal on 24 opportunities.Johnson Keeps Working
Capitals backup goalie Brent Johnson continues to work toward returning from hip surgery, even though his future with the team remains unclear. The 32-year-old is a free agent this summer and has been pushed to third on the depth chart behind surprising rookie Simeon Varlamov and José Theodore.
"It really is getting complicated," Johnson said. "In the offseason, we'll see what happens here. I would love to stay here. But it's getting to be a different game right now when you look at next year. I just need to show them that I'm ready and that I'm trying as much as I can to get back." . . .
Crosby on Varlamov's spectacular stop in the second period of Game 1: "I just took a few shots and went over the exact same play, but I do that with any play. When you miss an opportunity, usually you go back the next day and work on it. Usually you're not working on an open net, but I had to."