By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; D01
ST. LOUIS -- The Capitals departed Washington five days ago looking to tie the NHL record for consecutive wins. They returned home Saturday night riding a different kind of streak after David Perron scored the only goal in the shootout to lift the St. Louis Blues to a 4-3 victory and hand them a third loss in a row at Scottrade Center.
The defeat wasted a two-goal effort by Mike Knuble and extended Washington's drought in St. Louis to eight straight games, a slump that dates to 1996. Despite the disappointment, Coach Bruce Boudreau eagerly pointed out the positives, such as the fact that the Capitals entered the Olympic break atop the league standings.
"People are going to say we've lost three in a row," Boudreau said. "But one was in overtime and the other was in a shootout. So we've only lost one in regulation in the last 17. That's a pretty good mark."
Perron sealed the Blues' third win in a row when he glided in slowly and fired a shot off the post. The puck, however, rebounded and hit goaltender José Theodore on the shoulder before bouncing back across the goal line. It was a bad break for Theodore, who made 33 saves, including a handful of key stops in the third period and overtime to help the Capitals earn a point and reach 90 for the third consecutive season.
"I thought this game we played pretty well," center David Steckel said. "I thought it was probably our best game in the last seven."
The Capitals headed out on this three-game trip riding a 14-game winning streak and a wave of confidence that bordered on invincibility. But after consecutive losses to Montreal, Ottawa and St. Louis this week, the two-week hiatus, which begins Sunday night, couldn't get here soon enough for a group that, at times, seemed mentally, physically and emotionally drained.
"Everybody had such high expectations for us [during the streak] that I think it mentally drained us," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "Each game, the other team was really gunning for us. So it's almost like it drained us more quickly. But the break is coming at a good time. It will give everyone a chance to recharge and get away from the game of hockey for a week and start fresh when March comes."
On Saturday, Washington actually suffered a pair of losses. Winger Matt Bradley suffered a suspected head injury in the first period and did not return after a questionable hit from Cam Janssen. Boudreau called the hit "ugly" but also said the team believes Bradley will be "okay."
Each team scored twice in a back-and-forth second period that saw the Capitals fall behind twice. Alexander Semin's 30th goal of the season rallied them once, then Knuble's second power play goal of the game brought them back a second time, tied the game 3-3 and set up a tense third period.
The Capitals' maligned penalty kill unit extinguished a 1:18 five-on-three after a huge glove save by Theodore, who robbed Alexander Steen while on his rear end in the crease. Theodore also stopped a breakaway by Roman Polak in the final seconds of overtime to force the game into the shootout.
But Theodore couldn't close the door in the shootout. He appeared to lose track of the puck momentarily after Perron's shot rang the right goal post. Blues goalie Chris Mason clinched the win at the other end when he turned back Brendan Morrison.
"We played well for 60 minutes," defenseman Mike Green said. "We worked hard, but unfortunately tonight it had to go to a shootout and we couldn't get it done."
The disappointing conclusion capped a night that got off to a lousy start for the visitors.
Before the game was six minutes old, the Capitals found themselves down a forward after an unsuspecting Bradley was knocked woozy by Janssen near the corner several seconds after the Capitals' grinder had played the puck. Janssen appeared to make contact with the side of Bradley's head with his shoulder.
Janssen, who does not have a point in 38 games but is the Blues' penalty minute leader, was ejected. The enforcer also was assessed a five-minute penalty for interference and five for fighting Quintin Laing, who jumped to Bradley's defense despite Janssen's rugged reputation.
"It was pretty ugly, I think," Boudreau said. "But I've made comments on other hits and it hasn't gotten me anywhere. So my concern is with Matt. . . . I thought it was a late hit and unwarranted. I'm sure the league will do the right thing. Those are just bad hits. I think he's going to be okay, but we'll see."
Steckel added: "He was in a vulnerable position. Brads said he should have known better, but that was several seconds late."
The ejection, though, may be the least of Janssen's worries. Given the league's crackdown on head shots, the winger could face supplementary discipline.
About three minutes after Bradley's scary-looking injury -- he struggled to back on his skates, then wobbled to the dressing room with the assistance of head athletic trainer Greg Smith -- the Capitals gave up the game's first goal for the seventh straight contest.
After another defensive zone scramble -- this one during a four-on-four -- Patrik Berglund banged in a cross-crease pass from Polak.
But the Capitals caught a break 87 seconds later when Knuble scored on the power play. Green whiffed on a shot, but the puck bounced off Barret Jackman's leg and right to Knuble.
"It's been a tough grind mentally," Green said. "We wanted to win tonight and go into the break the way we started this stretch and end it with a win. But this rest is going to be good for us."
Capitals notes: John Carlson was recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears and skated 13:35 and blocked two shots. . . .
Tyler Sloan and John Erskine, both of whom struggled in Thursday's 6-5 loss in Ottawa, were healthy scratches. . . .
Tomas Fleischmann was moved from center back to wing, his natural position, after winning only five of 25 draws in the previous two games. . . .
Left wing Jason Chimera and defenseman Tom Poti were sidelined with groin muscle strains. Chimera was placed on injured reserve, while Chris Bourque was re-assigned to the Bears.