Capitals still searching for their groove on offense

Goalie Tim Thomas leads with a 35-save performance as Boston defeats Washington, 3-1, at Verizon Center, ending the Capitals' four-game winning streak.
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 12:40 AM

If there has been one constant throughout the first six games of the Washington Capitals' 2010-11 season, it's that goals have been harder to come by for last season's Presidents' Trophy winners. Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins was no different.

Midway through the contest, the Capitals appeared poised for one of their trademark rallies, and with Verizon Center in a fever pitch after the team completed a string of penalty kills, they peppered the Boston net with shots.

But Washington met the defensively dedicated Bruins squad that hung back, clogged up the center of the ice, rarely gave up second- and third-shot chances and simply bided its time waiting for the Capitals to make a mistake.

"It's similar to the playoffs we played against Montreal," Tomas Fleischmann said. "The other guys are deep for a long time and they make sure they don't make mistakes. There aren't much three-on-twos, two-on-ones; we don't even have them anymore. That's the problem and we don't have the second shots, either. We get one shot but no rebound, and we have to be better than that."

The Capitals (4-2) enter Thursday's rematch with the Bruins (3-1) with 18 goals, including 12 at even strength and four on the power play. Six games into last year's campaign, they tallied 22 goals, 16 at even strength and six on the power play.

Although it's not a significant statistical decline overall, and likely speaks to Washington's need to find its groove on the power play (4 for 26), the occasional struggle to finish on scoring chances has not gone unnoticed by the team. At practice Wednesday, Coach Bruce Boudreau swapped Fleischmann and rookie Marcus Johansson, with Johansson skating between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.

"It was just something to look at, to see the chemistry," Boudreau said, "and we haven't been scoring anywhere near the pace that we're capable of. A lot of it, I think, has to do with [the fact that] we're not getting a lot of offense from our power play, but it's nothing new."

Perhaps more important for the Capitals is to keep things simple, pursue second-chance opportunities and rely on outworking opponents along the boards and on the forecheck to create offensive chances, rather than rely on skill alone.

Johansson's goal against the Bruins was a prime example. Matt Hendricks out-muscled Boston's Matt Hunwick down low and freed up the puck, which Jason Chimera scooped up behind the net and then sent a pretty pass to Johansson atop the crease for the lone Washington goal in the contest.

"I think for us to be more effective offensively, we have to work harder," Laich said. "People always talk about our skill, how much skill [we] have. But if you sit there and watch the video, and dissect the video, you see every time we score a goal, it's because we beat somebody in a race. We beat them with our legs, we beat them in a stick battle on the boards, we win a battle somewhere where the puck comes out and then we have an opportunity and the skill takes over."

Capitals notes: Defenseman Mike Green said he isn't ready to return to the lineup and will miss his third straight game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. . . .

After leaving Tuesday's game with the flu, goaltender Michal Neuvirth participated in the full practice Wednesday but said he still didn't feel well. . . .

Forward Boyd Gordon did not practice for the second straight day, and Boudreau did not offer an update on his condition.

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