By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 11, 2009
DETROIT, Oct. 10 -- One game after being criticized by their coach for not showing enough desire, effort was the least of the Washington Capitals' problems at Joe Louis Arena.
Team discipline, however, was again an issue, and the lack of it proved to be the decisive factor in a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals' third consecutive defeat.
Defenseman Mike Green was in the penalty box when Tomas Holmstrom snapped a shot from the circle over José Theodore's glove for the Red Wings' second power play goal of the night with 6 minutes 53 seconds left. It was Green's second minor penalty of the game and it underscored a major deficiency for a team that entered the game having taken more minor penalties -- 21 -- than all but four others.
"We competed," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We did a lot of little things well, but it was the same situation for us. If we don't address our penalties it's difficult because it ruins the whole flow of our game. Our penalty killers are tired. Our top guns aren't on the ice. Not to mention they've got a five on four."
In all the Capitals took five minor penalties, including consecutive ones assessed to Alexander Semin in the second period. The first was a slashing infraction in the offensive zone. His second -- which drew a curse from Coach Bruce Boudreau on the bench -- was for interference about eight minutes later in the period and directly led to the Red Wings' second goal.
With Semin in the box, Jason Williams fired a slap shot through a screen off the post and past Theodore to send the game into the third period with the Red Wings leading, 2-1.
"I'm not happy," Boudreau said. "We have to figure out how to teach him not to do these things. He can go along for great games and then his head's not in it and he takes dumb penalties. It's a downfall for our team. If we hadn't taken penalties in this game or in other games, we could easily be 5-0. Instead, we're .500. It's back to the drawing board."
Theodore was helpless to stop Williams's shot, which he never saw because Tom Poti and the Red Wings' Daniel Cleary were tied up in front of him in the crease.
Despite dropping to 1-2-1, Theodore (34 saves) was outstanding for most of the game, putting forth exactly the type of performance Boudreau hoped he would deliver after surrendering a pair of weak goals in the third period of Thursday's loss to the New York Rangers.
"Our goalie was great, and their goalie made some big saves too," Boudreau said.
But a quiet night offensively for the top line of Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Semin, coupled with the penalty problems, proved to be too much for the Capitals to overcome. Ovechkin had nine shots (but none in the third period), 10 hits and an assist. But Backstrom and Semin each finished without a point.
"The late penalties, you can't make it tough on yourself and put yourself in a tough jam," forward Mike Knuble said. "For us, it's a touch of a struggle. You can't do that against them. They're licking their chops when they get out there on the power play with eight minutes to go."
Before Green took the penalty that led to the decisive goal, the Capitals appeared to have seized some of the momentum from the two-time defending Western Conference champions.
Brendan Morrison had leveled the score at 2 with a power play goal at 1:25 of the third period when he fired a pass from Ovechkin past Chris Osgood's blocker. Osgood finished with 22 stops.
But just as the Capitals began to crank up the intensity and pressure late in the period, Green was whistled for hooking Ville Leino.
Forty-four seconds later, Holmstrom scored the winner.
The sequence spoiled a night that began with such promise for the Capitals.
Although they had come into the game with the top three scorers in the league, fourth-liner Matt Bradley might have been Washington's best forward in the first period. He opened the scoring with a slap shot from the boards that somehow slipped past Osgood at the 3:58 mark.
Not only was the goal Bradley's first in regular season play since March 19, it was the Capitals' first goal from a forward who skates out of the top six. Bradley also had a blocked shot and drew a hooking penalty late in the period on defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
The Capitals couldn't make it stand up, though. Leino jammed a loose puck past Theodore during a wild scramble in front moments after a tripping penalty to Green expired to send the game into the second tied at 1.
"It's fixable," captain Chris Clark said of eliminating the penalties. "But right now it's a stumbling block for our team. We can easily get through it -- just don't take them."
See voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider for a video of hockey writer Tarik El-Bashir's postgame analysis.