By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 12:26 AM
In the opening 20 minutes on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals played the game and style they long to see on a frequent basis, with sustained pressure built off of cycling the puck low in an opposing zone combined with defense and neutral-zone play that doesn't yield many odd-man rushes.
Despite the positives on display in the first period, though, the Capitals' seemingly chronic inability to maintain a level of consistency throughout an entire game - or at least adhere to the plan they put forth - allowed the Montreal Canadiens to come back. Montreal erased a two-goal deficit, forced overtime and handed Washington its eighth consecutive loss in a contest that extended beyond regulation to claim a 3-2 shootout victory at Verizon Center.
Canadiens captain Brian Gionta tallied the game-winner and also the only goal in the shootout to go along with the pair he recorded in the second period, both of which were the direct result of miscues by the Capitals. Washington has lost 10 of its past 11 games that have required more than 60 minutes of play and the loss to Montreal marks their second three-game losing streak in the past 10.
"It's definitely disappointing," Scott Hannan said. "You think you come out in one and you do the things that you need to win. Then we took some penalties, got kind of behind and sat back and started to make plays that didn't get us there. It kind of turned the momentum a bit and they came at us. Give them credit, they came back and they played the way they needed to, but I think we gave them a lot of their chances."
Washington started fresh in its first game since the all-star break and out-skated the Canadiens, who were penned in their own zone for much of the opening 10 minutes. On a shift fueled by the cycling work of Brooks Laich, center Mathieu Perreault cashed in with a shot that slipped between Montreal goaltender Carey Price's pads to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead just 2 minutes 29 seconds in.
The Capitals continued to press and Marcus Johansson drew a penalty when he was hauled down by Roman Hamrlik on a breakaway. With just five seconds remaining on the resulting man-advantage, Mike Green split the Montreal penalty killers and dished the puck to Mike Knuble standing unguarded on the doorstep. Knuble chipped a shot into the net to make it 2-0 before eight minutes elapsed, making it the first time since Dec. 28, also against Montreal, that Washington held a two-goal edge in the first period.
For all the positives that came in the first period though, the Capitals didn't follow through with the same type of play in the second. Montreal showed the desperation of a team hungry to make a comeback and quickly chipped away.
"I think we kind of sat back on our two-goal lead and we can't afford to do that," said Perreault, whose goal was his first since Dec. 26. "We need to keep going and keep pushing and it came up to bite us in the [butt]. At this time of the year, we can't afford to just be good for 20 minutes. It's got to be 60 minutes."
The teams combined for only five shots through seven minutes but the Canadiens were spending more time in the offensive zone while Washington was a little more haphazard with its passes.
On a two-on-one with Andrei Kostitsyn, Gionta beat Semyon Varlamov cleanly to cut the Capitals' lead to one at 8:28 of the second.
Gionta scored again to tie the contest at 2 with less than three minutes remaining in the period on a breakaway that resulted from a Washington gaffe at the offensive blue line. Defenseman John Carlson had picked off a pass in the neutral zone but instead of driving toward the net upon crossing in to the Montreal end he left a drop pass that wasn't picked up by any of his teammates but rather Tomas Plekanec, who sent an outlet pass to Gionta going the other way.
"I don't think it's a let down as much as mistakes," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You make two critical mistakes at bad times - defenseman goes down the boards when there's no need to go down and we don't get it deep. . . . We made two bad mistakes and it was in our net."
The Capitals pushed back in the third period but couldn't solve Price one more time and even with the late flurries Montreal outshot the Capitals, 25-15, in the second and third periods combined. Perhaps the most consistent showing came from Varlamov, who made 36 saves and helped ensure that Washington would capture at least one point for a sixth time in seven games.
A shootout loss, or victory for that matter, may reflect little of what happened in the 65 minutes that occurred prior, but the Capitals' frustration with themselves for the inconsistencies is rising.
"It's tough, but the answers are in this room and they aren't going to come from anywhere else," said Matt Hendricks, who was asked what Washington needs to move forward. "I think 100 percent commitment from everybody. I think at times we have it and at times we don't."