By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Washington Capitals earned a point in the standings, but their performance against the New Jersey Devils did little to quell concerns about their ability to hold onto a late lead or stay out of the penalty box at critical times.
The Capitals lost their fourth straight game Monday at Verizon Center, 3-2, in the shootout after blowing a one-goal lead with under seven minutes left to play, then giving the Devils a power play in overtime.
"Even though we have a fairly veteran team, it's learning how to win again," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you've got it, instead of thinking, 'Uh-oh, what's going to happen, what's going to go wrong? You're thinking, 'No problem, we're going to win it.' That's the mindset a little bit right now. So it would be good to eventually win a game again."
Mike Green and Mike Knuble each scored goals in the first period, and goaltender José Theodore was solid throughout and particularly spectacular in overtime. But it wasn't enough on a night when the Capitals surrendered a third-period lead for the third time in four games.
Leading 2-1, they failed to get the puck out of their own end for about a 90-second span, and New Jersey's David Clarkson pounced.
Clarkson, who had been involved in a fight with Capitals captain Chris Clark in the first period, showed he could use his hands for something else, too. He took a feed from Nicklas Bergfors in front and fired a slow shot past Theodore to knot the game at 2 with 6 minutes 24 seconds remaining.
"We couldn't get the puck out and they scored on it," Boudreau said. "Everyone on the bench and in the building knew something bad was going to happen here."
After that, the Capitals had to kill off another third-period penalty assessed to Boyd Gordon -- his fourth minor of the year -- just to reach overtime. Then in the extra session, Brendan Morrison was whistled for tripping Devils star Zach Parise.
Down four men to three, Theodore made a pair of highlight reel stops in overtime -- both on Parise -- to force a shootout. But Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner converted their penalty shots to give the Devils their third straight win.
"José was on top of his game again, but we just couldn't get that win for him," Clark said. On the penalty problems, Clark added: "Penalties are going to happen, but it's just magnified at this point because it's becoming a problem."
In all, the Capitals were assessed five minor penalties but managed to keep the Devils' power play from converting. Washington's power play also struggled, going 0 for 5, including a two man advantage for 53 seconds early in the third period.
"That was the time to do it," Boudreau said. "Those are the one that you have the killer instinct and put it away. We had the same problem on five on threes last year. Everyone wants to be a scorer and no one wants to do the grunt work in front of the net."
In an unexpected move, Boudreau split up Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in an effort to put more balance on the top two lines. The results were immediate.
With Ovechkin skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Knuble on the top line, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Green and Knuble. The Ovechkin line was on the ice for both goals.
Green -- on his 24th birthday -- opened the scoring with his first goal of the season at 9:06 of the first period. The defenseman sneaked backdoor, and when Ovechkin's pass hit Knuble's skate in the crease, the puck ricocheted right to Green, who snapped his shot over Martin Brodeur's glove. It was the first goal for a Capitals' defenseman this season.
Knuble then extended the Capitals' lead to 2-0 with a shot that beat Brodeur from the middle of the circle.
The play began with a brilliant pad save at the other end of the ice by Theodore on Brian Rolston. Ovechkin corralled the rebound, carried the puck up ice and dished to Knuble.
Putting Knuble on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, however, had a side effect: The second line of Brooks Laich, Morrison and Semin struggled.
"They were on for both goals," Boudreau said of Semin's line. "We have to find a fit for that works for everyone."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman John Erskine did not return after taking his first shift of the second period. Boudreau said he was injured while blocking a shot.
"It's upper body," Boudreau said. "He's day to day. Nothing is broken, just day to day, just sore. Defensemen Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan were healthy scratches, as was center Michael Nylander.