By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 3, 2010; D01
LOS ANGELES -- For the second time in two games on this trip, the Washington Capitals were awarded a five-on-three power play, and with it, the chance to change the course of the contest.
But, once again, Alex Ovechkin and Co. did not capitalize, and on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, the failure made all the difference in a 2-1 loss to goalie Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Capitals, who did not have first-line center Nicklas Backstrom for the final 39 minutes because of a migraine headache, have suffered three straight regulation setbacks, their longest such streak since March.
"That's four in a row," an exasperated Coach Bruce Boudreau said referring to his team's streak of futility on the five-on-threes. "So obviously I'm going to have to change up the people who are out there. Because some of us aren't listening."
With the Kings clinging to a one-goal lead with about seven minutes remaining, Jack Johnson and Sean O'Donnell both were in the penalty box, giving the Capitals 53 seconds of five-on-three time. But the Ovechkin-led unit squandered much of it passing the puck around the perimeter, waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself.
Instead of pulling even, the Capitals mustered only one shot on Quick, who was occasionally spectacular in making 26 stops. In Wednesday's 5-2 loss in San Jose, Washington failed to score on a 49-second two-man advantage.
"We got one shot and almost scored," Boudreau said. "So I would think the answer would be, 'Let's shoot some more.' "
Mike Green, who tallied Washington's only goal, added: "That was the difference tonight. We score there, we tie it up and we go on and have momentum after that and [might] score another one after that."
Green's goal came on the power play early in the second period and tied the game at 1. Michal Handzus's winner, though, also came with the Capitals up a man.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Brad Richardson went behind the net in pursuit of the puck. Ovechkin went to hit Richardson, but did not get all of him, allowing Richardson to zip a centering pass to a wide-open Handzus in front of the net. Handzus lured Michal Neuvirth (17 saves) to the ice, then patiently fired the puck over the sprawled goalie at 2 minutes 50 seconds.
"It looked way too easy," Boudreau said. "It looked like Alex let up on the hit. It looked like everyone else thought there was a whistle or gave up on that play. But that should never happen."
Washington has yielded four short-handed goals this season. Only four teams have allowed more.
The Capitals did not provide an official status update on Backstrom, who took two short shifts at the start of the second period and did not return. But Boudreau said he was suffering from a migraine. Backstrom has never missed a game in his NHL career, but he has left at least two contests because of headaches. The 22-year-old Swede had left the visitors' dressing room before it was opened to reporters, and he was unavailable to comment.
"I hope it's not too serious," Boudreau said. "I don't think so anyway."
Without their top playmaker, Boudreau was forced to shuffle his lines for most of the game. While it caused a disruption, Backstrom's absence also seemed to serve as a rallying point after the Capitals struggled to a third straight weak start.
They were outshot 11-4, outscored 1-0 and also took three minor penalties to the Kings' none in the opening period. In the past three games, the Capitals have been outscored 6-0 and out-shot 35-11 in the first period.
Saturday's early effort wasn't any better. Ryan Smyth opened the scoring on the power play with 59 seconds remaining in the first period after the burly winger crashed the net, snagged a rebound off of Anze Kopitar's point shot, then poked the loose puck between Neuvirth's pads.
The Capitals were awarded a power play early in the second period, and Green wasted little time pulling them even. He took a feed from Tom Poti, glided in for a closer look, then ripped a shot past Quick's blocker pad to make it 1-1 at 2:13. Green also drew the penalty that led to the power play.
Washington outshot the Kings 13-3 in the second period and 10-5 in the third. But the poor start and failed five-on-three were too much to overcome.
"The last two periods were pretty good," Boudreau said. "It's no consolation when you lose. But it was a better effort than the [previous] two games."