By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The Washington Capitals began the game missing six players who started the season on the opening night roster, and by the middle of the second period, were down a seventh.
But injuries weren't the reason the Capitals fell to the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, on Friday night at Verizon Center after a mad scramble to tie the game in the final minute came up short.
They lost, according to Coach Bruce Boudreau, because they weren't ready to play in the first period and because they weren't committed to going into high-traffic areas of the ice and "paying the price" necessary to score.
"We didn't have any second shots until the end of the game," Boudreau said. "Good goalies are going to make the first save. You have to pay the price to score goals. We were getting outmuscled."
The Capitals poured 27 shots on Carey Price in the final 40 minutes of the game, but managed to squeeze just one past him. And that didn't come until there were 2 minutes 32 seconds left when Brendan Morrison intercepted Mike Green's point shot and flipped the puck past the Canadiens goalie.
After Morrison's goal, the Capitals put four shots on Price, including one by Green that trickled between the goalie's glove and his side before clanking off the goal post with 21 seconds remaining and bringing the fans to the edge of their seats.
"I thought we had a chance to tie it," Boudreau said. "If we did the right things we would have scored."
Boudreau also said he thought Alex Ovechkin struggled all night. In his second game back from an injury near his left shoulder, the two-time MVP took only one shot on goal through 40 minutes (before finishing with five) and finished without a point for just the fourth time this season.
"As far as I know," Boudreau said when asked if Ovechkin is healthy. "He says he is. I just didn't think he was on top of his game tonight."
Although the loss was only Washington's second in seven games, what they lost in the second period might end up hurting worse. Big-minute defenseman Tom Poti suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. Boudreau said the team will have to recall a player from the minor league Hershey Bears ahead of Saturday's game in Toronto.
Poti is just the latest Capital to go down, joining Alexander Semin (wrist), Shaone Morrisonn (head), Milan Jurcina (groin), Boyd Gordon (back), Mike Knuble (broken finger) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw).
Despite the depleted lineup, the Capitals took an early lead on a goal from Eric Fehr, who opened the scoring at 11 minutes 52 seconds of the first period thanks to 174-pound Mathieu Perreault, who won a puck battle in the corner against 234-pound Ryan O'Byrne. Perreault threaded a back-handed pass to Fehr, who fired the puck from the middle of the circle into the upper corner -- just about the only spot Price couldn't reach.
But it was the only highlight of a first period in which they mustered only seven shots.
"We had a slow start tonight, not a lot of urgency in the game," Morrison said. "We turned it on at the end, but it was too little too late. We didn't help ourselves with our poor start."
That poor start extended into the early moments of the second, when the Canadiens scored twice in the opening 6:46 to take control.
Travis Moen struck first, redirecting a shot by Roman Hamrlik around Michal Neuvirth, who was making his first start of the season, to even the score at 3:59.
Then, just 2:47 later, Tomas Plekanec made it 2-1, scoring on a circus-like shift that began with John Erskine and Chris Clark snapping their sticks. Unable to clear the zone, Plekanec fired a shot that deflected off of Brendan Morrison's hand before slipping between Neuvirth's pads.
"We made 14 mistakes before it got in the net," Boudreau said. "That wasn't his fault. He did what a starting pitcher is supposed to do: he kept us in the game. And we didn't take advantage of it."
Neuvirth stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period and finished with 19 total in his first start since a 5-2 loss to Carolina last March.
The rookie was recalled recalled Tuesday to fill in for José Theodore, who was given time off to refocus and deal with family matters related to the death of his two-month old son last summer.
Another young Capital getting his first action was defenseman John Carlson, who hit the post in the second period and in 17:24 of ice time. He also finished with a game-high five hits.
"I thought he played with a lot of poise in his first game," Boudreau said of Carlson, who had been paired with Poti before the veteran got hurt. "I thought his shots from the point were accurate. He's going to be a good player in this league for a long time."
As well as Carlson played, the 19-year-old was still upset with himself for hitting the post. Had he scored, it would have give the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
"Scoring is another dream of mine," Carlson said. "I wish we could have won the game and that I could have contributed a little bit more. If we had 20, 30 more seconds there I think we would have tied it up."