By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 12:10 AM
For the second time in as many contests, the Washington Capitals faced a Western Conference foe at home only to look sluggish at best and ineffective at worst. On Saturday afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings, the Capitals squandered an opportunity to leave Verizon Center on a positive note thanks to a lack of sharpness in their own zone and a failure to win battles to create chances of their own.
Los Angeles defeated Washington, 4-1, to send the Capitals into their five-game trip, their longest of the season to date, as losers of two straight. With the loss, Washington remained at 68 points. The Capitals slipped into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference when the Montreal Canadiens beat visiting Toronto on Saturday night.
Coach Bruce Boudreau was prepared to hold a long postgame discussion with the team after the lackluster display, but instead it became a players-only meeting that lasted upward of 10 minutes once the Capitals were off the ice. To a man, the Capitals were disgusted with their performance and emphasized their urgent need to start playing for the present rather than waiting for the postseason.
"We're coming to a key point in the season, I'm sure we're all aware of that," veteran Mike Knuble said. "It's time to start throwing the switch toward playoffs. We've got to be playing well. We're just kind of sloughing our way. It's like we're waiting for something to happen. . . . We're entering the toughest part of our season and it's going to be a real indicator if we're a serious contender or not, quite honestly."
Facing a Kings squad desperate to keep pace in the heated playoff race in the Western Conference, the Capitals - playing after three off days - appeared to come out in the first period with a sense of purpose after a lack of execution in a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin scored on the first shot of the game to give Washington an edge just 66 seconds in.
It was a trademark goal by Ovechkin - a one-on-one play where he curled into the center of the ice to unleash a wicked wrist shot.
But rather than assert themselves, the Capitals drifted into less-focused play after taking the lead. The Kings benefited from more time in the offensive zone as the Capitals left space in front of their own net. In the second period, Los Angeles recorded eight shots on goal before Washington managed one with more than seven minutes gone.
"For whatever reason we stopped working," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We got comfortable - a little too comfortable."
Kings all-star forward Anze Kopitar scored near the halfway point of the period when he drove to the net and gained control of a rebound with no challenge from any of three Capitals standing in his immediate vicinity. Washington's Semyon Varlamov, who finished with 24 saves, made the first stop on the play - a nice save against Wayne Simmonds - but couldn't catch the extra attempt. Although the Kings dominated the play, the score remained tied heading into the second intermission.
"It's a 1-1 game going into the third," Boudreau said. "We outworked them in the first, got outworked in the second, and all we had to do was outwork them in the third to start a tough road trip, and [the Capitals] looked like they were already thinking about what's going on in the sun."
In the third, Los Angeles took firm control by making the most of large gaps left by the Capitals in front of their net and upon entry into the Washington zone. Rookie center Andrei Loktionov made it 2-1 when Varlamov awkwardly shoveled a rebound from a point shot only a few feet in front of the crease.
Michal Handzus scored by poking repeatedly at a loose puck near Varlamov while the Capitals watched, giving the Kings a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes 28 seconds gone in the third. Jarret Stoll added a fourth goal on an easy two-on-one rush where few Washington players made it back to help prevent the tally. Los Angeles's backup goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, in his 16th appearance of the season, finished with 22 saves.
"We all know what we're capable of," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "We all know we can be the best team in the league, but we need to start doing it and stop saying: 'Oh it will come before playoffs, it will come before playoffs.' That's not good enough."