By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 12:31 AM
Despite a cleaner all-around game, highlighted by a close-checking effort in their own end and fewer turnovers in the neutral zone, the Washington Capitals still couldn't snap out of their slump. Shots that hit the post, a puck swept off the goal line and other bad-luck bounces on Wednesday night prevented them from building a larger lead against the Anaheim Ducks, who would wind up with the final break.
Anaheim claimed a 2-1 overtime victory at Verizon Center to seal Washington's seventh straight defeat. The Capitals gained a point for the first time in four contests but extended their longest losing streak since the 2006-07 season, when they lost nine consecutive games.
"We liked the way we played," said Brooks Laich, who scored Washington's lone goal and finished with a game-high seven shots. "The result's not there, and ultimately that's what you want. Maybe we gave them five or six scoring chances, and a couple of those were on the power play. We stayed, for the most part, out of the penalty box. A lot of good things were done, and we got a point, too. Whenever you get a point, it's nothing to be laughed at or scoffed at. Points matter, and I think we're on the way back up now."
Coach Bruce Boudreau devised a plan to minimize the damage done by Anaheim's top line, and perhaps one of the best in the NHL, of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan by matching them with the veteran checking trio of Laich, David Steckel and Matt Bradley - something Washington typically doesn't do. For the most part, it worked as some of Washington's blue-collar forwards prevented three of the Ducks' four leading scorers from having much room to work with.
But in overtime, the Ducks were able to get Getzlaf and Perry on the ice against Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Getzlaf gained the puck in the corner, weaved his way to the left faceoff dot and shot between Semyon Varlamov's legs for the game-winner.
The game might not have gotten that far if the Capitals could have finished off more of their scoring chances. Nonetheless, Boudreau said this game was one for the Capitals to build on.
"They were very focused and they did the game plan to a 'T' and I thought we played very good. Sometimes you play very good and lose," Boudreau said. "We could have come in after the second period, been tied 1-1 and been so frustrated, and we weren't. We went out and I thought we played a really good third period, and that tells me they're getting mentally stronger."
From the start, Washington's determination to focus on its defense was apparent. It held the Ducks to seven shots an no more than two quality scoring chances in the first period, while taking 17 shots of its own. With a little more than five minutes remaining in the frame, Laich scored on a backhander from prime real estate - at the edge of the crease directly in front of Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller - for a one-goal edge. It was the first time since Dec. 6 against Toronto that the Capitals had scored first. Chances to add to that lead came quickly.
Before the first intermission, another shot by Laich trickled past Hiller (31 saves) but was swept off the goal line by Getzlaf. In the second, Ovechkin rang a shot off the crossbar on a breakaway attempt.
Then, at the end of a tic-tac-toe three-on-one play, Backstrom's shot, which appeared to be destined for a yawning cage, hit the far post.
"It just hit the post, I think, right away. I don't think he saved it. I don't know how, but I guess that happens when you're struggling," Backstrom said of the play. "It's tough, but it's a positive thing [that] we played much better than the game the other night. We just have to keep working. Eventually the puck is going to bounce our way. That's the game we want to see, and hopefully it's going to be the next game."
One mistake - a tripping call on Mike Knuble - gave the Ducks a power play during which Joffrey Lupul slipped a shot between Varlamov's legs to tie the score with more than seven minutes left in the second period. Even though they were dominating the game and only had a tied score to show for it, the Capitals didn't deflate entering the third period.
All the solid play doesn't make up for the reality of yet another loss, however.
Said Steckel: "Who cares about how well we can play? We're sick of how well we can play. Losing sucks."