Capitals overlook Maple Leafs and suffer 2-1 loss in shootout

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

TORONTO -- Alex Ovechkin splintered his stick in frustration as he headed to the visitors' dressing room at Air Canada Center.

Although he moved into a tie for second place in the NHL in goals with his 16th, the Washington Capitals winger was upset with how he had played in his team's lethargic 2-1 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the league's worst team.

"We didn't move our legs [including] me," he said. "I'm not happy how I play today. I'm not happy how my line play today. We score one goal, but we have to score more. We have more ice time than everybody, so we have to use it. We had a couple of chances on the power play, we don't score."

Ovechkin scored the Capitals' only goal in regulation, but the two-time MVP was stopped twice on the same power play -- one of four in which Washington came up empty -- by previously winless Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala early in the third period. Then, in the shootout, Ovechkin missed the net by a wide margin, sending the puck crashing off the glass.

Moments later, Niklas Hagman, who had scored Toronto's only goal in regulation, beat Semyon Varlamov with a back-hander to end the Maple Leafs' slide at five games and give them reason to celebrate for only the fourth time all season.

"I thought we did come out flat and had some flat moments when they picked it up," Capitals captain Chris Clark said. "It is a point, but it's not a happy point."

In the locker room afterward there was a mixture of frustration about losing to the league's worst team and satisfaction from earning a point on a night when it was obvious many of the Capitals simply did not have much energy. It was the team's second game in as many nights and they were playing with a patchwork roster beset by injuries.

Washington was missing seven regulars (Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Boyd Gordon, Quintin Laing, Milan Jurcina, Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn) because of injury. That's almost a third of the team's 23-man roster, or about $16 million in salary, sitting on the sideline.

As a result, Coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to play five rookies (Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Gordon, John Carlson and Varlamov) and get creative with his forward combos and defensive pairs.

"We looked pretty tired," Boudreau said. "Some of the guys were dragging. Sometimes there's a bad one point and sometimes there's a good one point. I think tonight we were lucky to come away with one point, and it was a good point for us."

It was certainly a good night for Varlamov, who made 38 saves, including 16 in a second period dominated by Phil Kessel and the Leafs. The 21-year-old has allowed one or two goals in each of his past four starts.

As impressive as he has been, Boudreau said he isn't ready to name either of his goaltenders -- Varlamov or José Theodore -- the clear-cut No. 1 going forward.

"Everything is cyclical," Boudreau said. "Varly will probably play a little more now than he did when he was going through a rough time at the beginning of the year. But once Theo turns it around, Theo will play and Varly might be sitting. It goes in cycles."

Defenseman Mike Green also had another impressive performance. He was solid in his own end and moved into the points lead among defensemen with 23 (three goals, 20 assists) with his assist on Ovechkin's goal.

Late in a sluggish first period, Ovechkin completed a nifty display of passing at 17 minutes 11 seconds to put the Capitals ahead, 1-0. On the rush, Brooks Laich zipped a pass from the boards into the slot to Green and dished a no-look pass to Ovechkin in the middle of the circle. Ovechkin buried the puck behind Toskala before the Leafs goalie could get over.

The Capitals were thoroughly outplayed in the second period but managed to stay in the game because of the outstanding play of Varlamov. The only puck that eluded him, in fact, was one he had virtually no chance of stopping.

Jason Blake's shot had deflected off of defenseman Tyler Sloan at the top of the crease and squirted into traffic, where the puck deflected into the net off Hagman, whose unintentional goal sent the game into the third tied, 1-1.

Varlamov and Toskala made sure the game went to extra time, though Brian Pothier almost ended it in regulation. The defenseman squeezed a shot through Toskala, but the puck clanked off the goal post.

"We couldn't muster up the strength to push through and chip pucks out," Pothier said. "We were tired for sure. For whatever reason and we were visibly tired."

So perhaps it's good the Capitals will get a day off in Ottawa on Sunday to rest and regroup before visiting the Senators on Monday.

"We're going to catch our breath tomorrow, get to Ottawa and get a good night sleep, get some good food in us," Pothier added. "Then play a pretty good team Monday."

Capitals notes: In the latest round of roster shuffling, Michal Neuvirth was reassigned to the minor league Hershey Bears Saturday morning after making his first NHL start of the season against Montreal. The team needed to send down the 21-year-old goalie to make room -- on the 23-man roster and under the $56.8 million salary cap ceiling -- for Andrew Gordon, a right wing who was recalled from the Bears as an injury replacement after Poti was hurt against the Canadiens. . . .

Morrisonn (concussion) skated with his teammates Saturday morning but was ruled out for the second straight game. He could return Monday.

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