By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:13 AM
The Washington Capitals didn't want for shots in their fifth meeting against the Atlanta Thrashers this season. The problem with the Capitals' season-high 46 shots, though, was that most came from the perimeter of the offensive zone rather than tight around the net, where second-chance opportunities abound.
Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 45 saves on Saturday night to hand Washington a 3-1 loss that snapped Atlanta's nine-game losing streak at Verizon Center. The Capitals' second straight defeat is the team's second regulation loss at home this season.
"You can have 100 perimeter shots and it looks good on a stat board," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But if they're not taking penalties cross-checking you in the back and tripping you in front of the net that means you're not fighting to get through there."
Washington also saw 20 attempted shots blocked by the Thrashers and another 16 miss the net, while Atlanta finished with 33 shots on goal but was far more opportunistic. The Capitals's lone goal came from Alex Ovechkin, who snapped a nine-game goal-scoring drought. His slap shot from the left faceoff circle with 48.2 seconds remaining in the second period made the score 2-1.
But even Ovechkin's tally was a one-timer off a sublime set-up from Alexander Semin. Washington seldom forced Pavelec to scramble to stop multiple shots on the same play, from close range or with players obstructing his view in front of the crease.
"I think that we attacked the zone well but we didn't really attack the net that well," said John Carlson, who had three shots in 22 minutes 51 seconds of ice time for Washington. "We tried as hard as we could to get in over [the blue line]. We had nice three-on-twos but it didn't seem like we were getting second chances around the net too much."
By the end of the first period, which concluded in a scoreless tie, five Capitals had at least two shots on Pavelec, but the Thrashers' netminder didn't appear fazed by Washington's steep advantage in time in the Atlanta zone. Pavelec, who entered the season 1-8-0 against Washington, has allowed just one goal in the past 75 shots over two games against the Capitals.
Atlanta struck first in the second period when Rich Peverley tipped a shot from the point by Dustin Byfuglien past Semyon Varlamov, who made 30 saves in his first loss in five starts since returning from a groin injury. The play started with Nicklas Backstrom being waved out of the faceoff circle, where Peverley beat Ovechkin on the draw to set up Byfuglien's attempt from the blue line.
Only 92 seconds later the Thrashers made it 2-0 when rookie Alexander Burmistrov roofed a bad-angle shot from behind the goal line over Varlamov.
With the cushion, Atlanta appeared content to endure the Capitals' barrage of offensive chances from the edges of its zone. But the way Washington continued to set up and fire shots at will on the Thrashers's net, even if most were from a distance, it seemed unlikely that the Capitals would be denied much longer.
On the verge of being shut out by the Thrashers for a fifth straight period - dating back to Atlanta's 5-0 win over Washington on Nov. 19 - Ovechkin cracked Pavelec's shield with a booming slap shot that should have provided momentum for comeback at the start of the final period.
"We should have bounced back right away in the third period and get something going, but we didn't do it," Backstrom said. "We didn't have a lot of energy out there."
More than two minutes past in the third period, David Steckel collided with Atlanta's Tobias Enstrom near the Thrashers's net. Enstrom crumpled to the ice and his teammate Jim Slater started a fight with Steckel. Both Slater and Steckel were charged major penalties for fighting, but the Capitals center was given an extra minor for kneeing as well.
The penalty that resulted from the kneeing call on Steckel provided the boost the Thrashers needed. Andrew Ladd scored just eight seconds into the man-advantage with Varlamov moving left to right across the goal mouth for a 3-1 edge that stopped Washington's momentum cold.
"It was a deflating goal," Boudreau said. "I think we lost our focus. From the fact that they were still talking about the supposed penalty on the bench and then the next thing you know the goal's in the net."