By Tarik El-Bashir
Thursday, November 5, 2009
NEWARK -- With Alex Ovechkin sitting in the press box Wednesday instead of buzzing around the Prudential Center ice, the Washington Capitals needed their other top players to fill the void.
Instead, they took "dumb" penalties and were conspicuously absent from the score sheet in a 3-2 loss to Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.
The Capitals, who have dropped three straight (0-1-2), were assessed four penalties -- including two offensive-zone penalties taken by Alexander Semin and another by Brendan Morrison -- and the Devils struck twice on the ensuing power plays to break open a game that was 1-1 at the start of the third period. Semin, in fact, took three offensive zone penalties.
"They're automatic penalties," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, who seethed on the bench late. "If you go behind the net and you put your stick on a guy you're going to get a penalty. Brendan Morrison has been in the league for 10 years. Alexander Semin has been in the league for five years and it's just dumb penalties."
Semin was in the penalty box for hooking when Niclas Bergfors scored the first of his two goals to give the Devils a 2-1 lead with 8:40 left to play. Less than four minutes later, Morrison was in the box when Bergfors redirected a Travis Zajac slap shot around Semyon Varlamov, who made 29 saves but suffered the first regulation loss of his career (9-1-1).
Tomas Fleischmann netted Washington's second goal with an extra attacker on the ice with 1:37 left to play. But it was too little, too late for a Capitals club that didn't get enough effort, passion or production from the players who were expected to carry the load in Ovechkin's absence.
"We had the firepower," Boudreau said. "It's guys didn't come to play. Whether they are feeling sorry for themselves because Alex is not in, I don't know. Same thing happened last year when we went into Buffalo and got smoked 5-0 when he wasn't there."
The Capitals are now 1-4-0 minus Ovechkin in the lineup -- a lineup Brodeur (26 saves) said isn't the same without the two-time MVP.
"The excitement level that he brings, the energy that he brings to the table, that wasn't there." said Brodeur, who made highlight stops on Mike Green and Semin. "You can tell."
The Capitals, however, might be getting that bullet back soon.
Ovechkin, who suffered what's believed to be a strain near his left shoulder Sunday, said during the second intermission that he's feeling "much better."
"Soon, you are going to see me again," Ovechkin said with a smile. "Soon."
Although it remains unclear exactly when Ovechkin will return to the lineup -- he's officially listed as week-to-week -- the all-star left wing is traveling with the team so that he can receive daily treatment from head athletic trainer Greg Smith.
Ovechkin also has not been ruled out of this weekend's back-to-back series with Florida and has not been placed on injured reserve, according to the league's roster report.
There are other reasons to believe Ovechkin might be back sooner rather than later. He's generally managed to return from injury much sooner than other players and has shown the ability to play when others might sit out. Also, the injury is to his non-shooting shoulder.
Until he returns, though, the Capitals are going need more from Nicklas Backstrom, Green and Semin, the other "Young Guns." All three failed to record a point and Green accidentally deflected one goal into his own net.
The night got off to a promising start when Sloan, a defenseman playing forward because of the recent rash of injuries, put the Capitals ahead 1-0 with a little help from Mathieu Perreault, a 2006 draft pick who was making his NHL debut. The play began with Chris Clark reaching around Jamie Langenbrunner to keep the puck in the zone and ended with Perrealt making a nifty backhanded saucer pass to Sloan, who fired the puck over Brodeur's blocker for his second career goal.
In the second period, the Devils tied the game early on a fluky goal by Brian Rolston and the Capitals continued to struggle to get much going offensively.
Rolston had set up behind the Washington net and attempted to send the puck into the slot to Langenbrunner. But before it got there, Green went down in an effort to block the pass. The puck ricocheted off his shin pad and past Varlamov.
The Capitals mustered only six shots on goal in the second period. Then came the penalty-filled third period.
"Bruce doesn't play the game," winger Mike Knuble said. "The players play the game. The onus has to be on the players, veteran guys. Myself the other day, Brendan tonight, and Alex. It's not the young guys letting us down, that's for sure. We need to take leadership and take ownership of the dumb things we're doing. We have to stop it."
Capitals notes: Unable to deal Michael Nylander or work out a loan agreement with a team outside of the NHL, the Capitals recalled the veteran center from his two-week conditioning stint with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. Nylander, however, is not expected to join the team on its road trip and is ineligible for another conditioning stint in the minor leagues. . . .
Defenseman John Erskine returned from an eight-game layoff because of a bruised right hand. . . . Eric Fehr skate in the morning but missed his fifth straight game.