By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 1:00 AM
For two periods Thursday night, the Washington Capitals watched power plays pass them by, squandering chances in the offensive zone. Although it was dominating the Florida Panthers in shots and time of possession, Washington seemed to grow more uncertain of itself offensively with each minute that ticked away.
Then Florida took a one-goal lead with one second remaining in the second period, and Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said his players hung their heads in the locker room between frames. The team that is typically so sure of itself offensively, able to make coming back from one-goal deficits look effortless, didn't have its usual swagger. The go-ahead tally by Michael Frolik was the boost Florida needed to complement a strong 36-save performance by Tomas Vokoun and hand Washington a 3-0 home loss.
It was the Capitals' third shutout loss in 11 games, the fifth time in that span they've been held to a goal or less, and it extended their losing streak to four games, their longest of the year. But before Thursday night, Washington had not failed this season on as many as seven consecutive power plays; it was 0 for 8 against Florida.
"My thoughts were our top six forwards weren't very good," Boudreau said. "Quite frankly, if your best players aren't your best players . . . you're not going to have success. . . . You have to get production out of your best players and it's not happening right now."
Boudreau singled out all of the Capitals' top offensive players - Alex Ovechkin, who has two points in the last four losses; Nicklas Backstrom (two); Alexander Semin (two); and Mike Green (one) - when discussing the shortcomings against Florida, a rebuilding team that had not won at Verizon Center since March 1, 2009.
"We know our strengths," said Ovechkin, who took five shots. "When we play simple, when we do what we have to do, it works. When we play casual, it doesn't work."
Desperate for a win, the Capitals started well enough, creating a plethora of scoring chances, particularly on their first two power plays. But as Vokoun calmly turned away the shots without appearing strained, Washington's usual scorers began trying to do too much on their own.
Beginning with nearly a full two minutes of a five-on-three advantage, the Capitals looked to make an eye-catching play rather than force the Panthers' penalty killers and Vokoun to move.
Florida would withstand more than seven short-handed minutes out of the first 20 as the Capitals led in shots, 18-6. On two more chances in the middle of the second, Washington continued to grow more independent instead of working as a unit, feeling pressure to bring the power play back to life.
"They were playing a tight game and it didn't seem like we were comfortable with it," forward Mike Knuble said. "These are all things that we're talking about, being comfortable playing in tight games, not getting antsy. It's not going to go away and we're going to run into hot goaltending and your power play is going to struggle on nights and it can't creep in and infect your team."
Late in the second, the Capitals rallied for a gutsy penalty kill during 1 minute 18 seconds of a two-man advantage in favor of the Panthers. There were only 27 seconds remaining in the frame after Washington killed the second penalty, but one second was all Florida needed.
The Panthers bombarded Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 29 saves, in the waning moments. He made the first two saves on the play but couldn't stop a third attempt from Frolik on top of the crease that gave Florida a 1-0 lead.
"It's tough to learn how to win," Capitals defenseman Scott Hannan said. "You've got to play within the system. We've got a good system here that works. When it does, the team scores a lot of goals, but sometimes you run into those goalies who are saving the puck, that are seeing the puck well, and you have to learn how to battle through that."
Rather than rally like they have so many times before, the Capitals looked even more uneasy at the start of the second.
Steve Bernier made it 2-0 when he fired a rebound into a wide-open cage after Stephen Weiss's shot bounced off the corner of the goal post with just less than 12 minutes remaining. Mike Santorelli added the final goal in the last three minutes.
"You could see the shoulders sagging and everything on the bench they just didn't believe they were going to be able to come back," Boudreau said.