Washington Capitals points streak ends at 15 games with 6-5 loss to Ottawa Senators in Semyon Varlamov's return to the net

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2010; D01

OTTAWA -- After going the first 58 games of the season without a single hat trick, Alexander Semin notched the Washington Capitals' third in three contests Thursday.

Semin's epic effort, however, was overshadowed by another lackluster defensive performance that, when combined with a rusty Semyon Varlamov, added up to an unsightly 6-5 defeat at Scotiabank Place.

The loss was the Capitals' second in 48 hours after 14 consecutive victories. But surrendering two points on the road to a hot team was of less consequence to Coach Bruce Boudreau than the sloppy manner in which it occurred. In all, they've yielded 23 goals in the past five games after allowing seven in the five games before that.

"It was an ugly display," a furious Boudreau said. "I thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You're not going to win when you give up six goals and maybe five of them are bad ones and our 'D' can't make a play. It's awful."

Varlamov, who was making his first start in the NHL since Dec. 7 because of groin muscle and knee injuries, gave up a goal to Jason Spezza on the Senators' first shot of the game, and his fortunes improved little. Varlamov faced 28 shots and suffered only his second regulation defeat, while the Senators won for the 13th time in 14 games.

After watching his injury-depleted defense commit egregious turnovers and Varlamov permit routine shots to beat him, Boudreau did not bite his tongue.

"I don't think he was ready to play," Boudreau said of his 21-year-old goalie, who is battling José Theodore and Michal Nuevirth for playing time. "He knew he was going to play. He's had 12 days of practice and a game [in the minor leagues] under his belt. It's his responsibility to be ready."

"When you say, he's rusty, it's an excuse," he added. "And excuses aren't tolerated. The puck's going through his legs? He's been making that save since he was seven years old."

Despite Varlamov's struggles, Semin and the league's most prolific offense almost bailed the Capitals out.

Chris Phillips gave the Senators a 5-4 lead early in the third period when his shot deflected off defenseman John Erskine's stick before eluding Varlamov. The play began with a turnover by Tyler Sloan.

About five minutes later, Alexei Kovalev beat Varlamov between the pads on the power play. It was the 30th-ranked unit's second goal of the game.

Semin made a game of it with 6 minutes 23 seconds left to play when he beat Brian Elliott with a wrist shot to cut the Capitals' deficit to 6-5. But the Russian winger's sublime effort was wasted on a night when his teammates struggled to keep the puck out of their own net.

"Two guys have had hat tricks the past two games, we should be able to win the game," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We've scored 10 goals. That should be enough to get us a win. But on the backside of the puck, we didn't play as well as we need to. It's the same as last night."

He added: "When you win 14 straight, you maybe start expecting good things to happen instead of making them happen."

That certainly was the case early as the Senators sprinted out to a 3-1 lead on goals by Spezza, Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson.

Washington's rally began when defenseman Jeff Schultz floated a shot from the point that eluded Elliott to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 6:39 of the second period.

Then, later in the same period, Semin struck twice 42 seconds apart to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead.

On Semin's first goal, the second-line winger glided into the position, looked left around a screen, looked right, then ripped the equalizer past Elliott.

Moments later, Semin took advantage of the space afforded him by the Senators' defense, circled in the offensive zone, then snapped a shot just under the cross bar to put the Capitals ahead on only their 16th shot.

But the Capitals' couldn't nurse that lead into the third period. Rugged Senators winger Chris Neil jammed a rebound past a sprawled Varlamov at 18:06 to knot the score at 4 and set the stage for a strong start to the third period for the Senators.

Bad habits "have been creeping in for about seven games now," said Boudreau, who was in rare form during his postgame news conference. "I've been telling them every frigging night about bad habits. The break can't come soon enough for me, where we can get five or six days of practice and get back on track here."

Capitals notes: Left wing Alex Ovechkin was held to one shot on goal, largely because of the defense from Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov. Semin had nine shots on goal. . .

The Capitals were without defensemen Shaone Morrisonn (flu) and Tom Poti (groin muscle strain), while forward Jason Chimera (groin muscle strain) was also out. Because of the injuries, prospects Karl Alzner and Chris Bourque were recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears. They arrived in Ottawa around 2:30 p.m. after leaving Hershey, Pa., at 8 a.m., then driving to Dulles Airport for a noon flight. . . .

Olympians from both the Capitals and Senators received a ceremonial send-off before the opening faceoff.

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