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Washington Capitals lack spark in 2-1 loss to Minnesota Wild

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 12:43 AM

ST. PAUL, MINN. - From the beginning, the Washington Capitals looked out of sorts. There was no spark, no hop in their strides that carried over from the complete team effort and win of just 24 hours prior to Thursday night's contest against the Minnesota Wild.

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The Capitals looked every bit the part of a team on the second night of back-to-back road games, sluggish compared to a Wild team hungry to end a two-game losing streak. When Washington woke up with about 10 minutes left in regulation, there wasn't enough time to save the game.

Minnesota defeated Washington, 2-1, to keep the Capitals winless at Xcel Energy Center - the only NHL arena where they've played but have yet to win - and snap their two-game winning streak.

"It was a really disappointing effort, I thought, from our team for about 50 minutes. You can't play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We can't let the other team take the game to us for the first half of the game. It looked like we were in quicksand. We weren't moving the puck. We couldn't handle the puck."

Minnesota set the tone with pressure from the outset, nearly scoring less than two minutes in when Andrew Brunette's shot beat Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth (15 saves). But the shot rang off the corner where the goal post meets the crossbar. That luck wouldn't last for long.

Before eight minutes elapsed, Brunette threaded a pass from the far boards to Chuck Kobasew, who was never picked up by a slow-moving Capitals defense while on top of the crease. Kobasew knocked the puck past Neuvirth to give Minnesota, which has outscored opponents 8-3 at home in the first period, a 1-0 lead.

That goal was the Wild's cue to continue its simple style and pace to the game. Despite utilizing the identical lineup to the one that played what Boudreau called Washington's "most complete game" of the season in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, the Capitals struggled to maintain puck possession.

Washington's passes lacked crispness, offside calls ended numerous rushes prematurely, Minnesota blocked too many shots easily and although each team was credited with 29 hits, none seemed to boost the Capitals as they did the Wild.

"Any time you come into this building you know they slow it down," said Jason Chimera, who had a goal disallowed in the second period. "Dump it in, dump it out. It's a boring game and you've got to be willing to check to get the puck back, keep pucks out of the middle and kind of grind one out. . . . You've got to be patient and play through that, we didn't."

Minnesota continued to generate chances until finally, with Matt Bradley in the box for holding and a delayed penalty against Karl Alzner for holding on the way, Wild captain Mikko Koivu scored with a shot off a rebound in the slot to make it 2-0 with 15 seconds remaining in the second period.

The Capitals didn't pressure Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom (21 saves ) until the third period, when they fired 11 shots - half their total for the game. Eventually, Alex Ovechkin ended the threat of a shutout with his first goal since Oct. 13 to make it 2-1. But with just 1 minute 36 seconds remaining, the tally was little more than window dressing after a largely lackluster game. Afterward, Boudreau wasn't buying the excuse of fatigue in this second of three games in four days.

"We know what makes this team successful and it isn't going diagonal passes through the neutral zone," Boudreau said. "We're a big strong team with big forwards and our success has been winning battles below the circles. That's what we did [Wednesday] so successfully and [Thursday] we decided we wanted to be fancy. You can't be fancy in this league."

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