Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec collapses during victory over Washington Capitals in teams' season opener

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 12:42 AM

ATLANTA - When another defensive breakdown led to a scramble around Michal Neuvirth and Washington's goal late in the second period, Mike Green dived toward the net, where he covered the puck in the crease and swept it away. It was emblematic of much of the Capitals' play in a 4-2, season-opening loss to the Thrashers: haphazard and too little too late.

But this particular play led to an automatic penalty shot and an extra opportunity for Atlanta, which was already dominating much of the game.

Atlanta second-year left wing Evander Kane proceeded to squeeze a shot between Neuvirth's left pad and arm for a two-goal lead from which the Capitals would never recover. But the deficit was predominantly self-inflicted as Washington fell Friday at Philips Arena, snapping an eight-game winning streak over Atlanta.

The defeat also marked the first time the Capitals, who return home to face New Jersey on Saturday at Verizon Center, have lost to the Thrashers since a 5-1 setback on March 16, 2009.

"They just outworked us," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You get rewarded when you outwork teams, and they outworked us so they got rewarded. I think [the Capitals are] old enough that they know they need to play better in order to succeed. It's not like . . . it's their first game together. It's one game. [Saturday] we'll be at home and we'll be ready."

Early in the first period, there was a scary moment when Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness and fell backward on to the ice just 2 minutes 25 seconds into the contest. Play was in the opposite end when the incident occurred, and his collapse did not appear to be caused by any contact from a player or the puck.

Pavelec, 23, was taken to a local hospital for further evaluations where he eventually regained consciousness and his vital signs returned to normal. According to a Thrashers news release, he was "awake, alert and asking about the score of the game" by the end of the second period. Concern for the Czech goalie helped fuel Atlanta players that much more against a Capitals team that defeated them in all six meetings last season.

"We were all shocked and concerned because it was so sudden," said Kane, who also scored the Thrashers' first goal and finished with a plus-2 rating. "But I think everyone was on the same page and knew we had to win it for him."

Not even a minute after Chris Mason replaced Pavelec in the Thrashers' net, the Capitals took a 1-0 lead when Tomas Fleischmann found Brooks Laich wide open on the doorstep for an easy tap-in goal. From that point forward, though, Washington struggled to create sustained offensive pressure.

"We didn't play our game at all," said captain Alex Ovechkin, who finished with an assist in 23:21 of ice time. "They just outworked us. It shows we have to play better especially in our zone and the neutral zone . . . The second goal was my mistake."

The Capitals finished with 31 shots but only took 15 through the first two periods. They also saw the Thrashers block 22 more attempts, and another 13 shots missed the net completely. But it was the inconsistent play and errors in the defensive end that resulted in countless quality scoring chances and odd-man rushes for Atlanta.

Each of the Thrashers' first three goals - Kane's wicked snap shot from the slot, Andrew Ladd's deflection and Kane's penalty-shot tally - were the culmination of plays that included Capitals turnovers or failed clearing attempts.

"We were a little sloppy in our own end, sloppy all over the ice at times," said Mike Knuble, who added the Capitals' second goal to make it a 3-2 game with roughly 12 minutes remaining in regulation. "I think they had a number of four-on-twos against us that we could have stopped. That's just asking too much of our goaltender."

Neuvirth's 27-save performance was one of few highlights for the Capitals, even though he suffered his first-ever loss to the Thrashers and is now 3-1 against Atlanta.

"I thought he held us in the game," Boudreau said. "He made the big save when he had to make the big save. I wasn't unhappy with his work at all."

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