By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 12:22 AM
ATLANTA - It hasn't mattered lately how many scoring chances the Washington Capitals generate or where the opportunities come from, they just can't find a way to make the puck cross the goal line on a regular basis. The same was true Wednesday night, when despite dominating play early against the Atlanta Thrashers the Capitals had nothing to show for it.
One gaffe in the second period was all the Thrashers needed to hand the Capitals a 1-0 loss in the final regular season meeting between the clubs. Washington lost all three contests at Philips Arena and wrapped up the season series with a 2-4-0 record against the Thrashers, who like the Capitals are scrambling to improve their placement in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference standings.
This particular defeat, the Capitals' seventh shutout of the season, didn't come with their past bad habits, though. Washington took 36 shots against Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, many high-quality chances that included second shots with players collapsed around the net - things the team has emphasized as it has looked to rejuvenate its offense.
Pavelec earned his second shutout of the Capitals this season and has won three consecutive starts against them, stopping 110 of 111 shots he has faced during that span.
"When you can't score, you can't score," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team has scored more than four goals only twice in the last 22 games. "The one thing I can say tonight, it wasn't for a lack of effort, puck control or shots on goal or anything. Even our power play I thought was really good. [We] just can't score goals right now. It's very frustrating for the coaches. I'm sure it is for every player in there when you're trying so hard and you can't score goals."
Chances came quickly in Atlanta for the Capitals, who spent the bulk of the opening 20 minutes in the offensive zone. But despite a smattering of prime chances - a partial breakaway by Marcus Johansson, a shot by Nicklas Backstrom in the slot on a power play and a wicked wrister on the fly in the final minute from Alex Ovechkin - Washington couldn't take a lead into the first intermission.
That the game remained scoreless at the end of the first offered the opening for the injury-riddled Thrashers, who were searching to snap a three-game losing streak and claim their first win in regulation since Jan. 5.
"We played pretty well in that period. They didn't get much then or this game," Capitals forward Jason Chimera said. "It's just frustrating when you can't score. â¦ You've got to find a way to beat the goalie. You've got to get traffic in front of him, do something a little different. A lot of times we're looking to pass instead of shooting. We had a lot of chances tonight, but we just have to keep shooting, getting better looks. It has to eventually go in."
At the start of the second period, the game's energy seemed split more evenly between the teams, but Washington still dictated the course of the game. An icing call that forced Atlanta Coach Craig Ramsay to call a timeout 10 minutes 28 seconds into the period would set up the opportunity the Thrashers needed.
After weathering pair of shots from the Capitals, who won the faceoff, the Thrashers cleared the puck into the Washington zone. Defenseman Jeff Schultz tried to settle the rolling puck, but Atlanta winger Freddy Modin poked it away and passed to rangy Nik Antropov, who was skating past the blue line.
Antropov brought the puck to the center of the ice and wristed a shot that beat Semyon Varlamov glove side to give the Thrashers a 1-0 lead at 11:21 in the second. It would be the only goal Varlamov allowed on 24 shots in his first start since Jan. 14. Although Washington had a territorial edge and better chances through the first half of the game, Atlanta seized the situation to jump ahead.
"I think we had lots of chances," said Alex Ovechkin, who took eight shots. "We just didn't use our opportunities to score goals. We played well all three periods, but we make one mistake and they use it. I don't think we gave them any chances, really."
Washington buzzed around the net for the rest of the contest, taking 18 shots in the second period and 10 more in the third. Arguably their best chance to tie came on the power play late in the second. With Modin off for tripping and just less than five minutes remaining in the middle frame, the Capitals released a series of rapid-fire shots as they rushed to create havoc around the net. None would best Pavelec, even though the goaltender was scrambling in his crease for much of the onslaught.
After its 0-for-3 showing on the power play against the Thrashers, Washington has scored nine goals in its last 88 opportunities with the man advantage over the last 27 games.
The Capitals (63 points) enter the four-day NHL all-star break having lost their past two contests and trailing the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning by four points. Atlanta improved to 57 points with the victory, remaining one ahead of Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.