Capitals vs. Coyotes: Ilya Bryzgalov stymies Washington

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 12:21 AM

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - The Washington Capitals needed a game in which they played with a palpable sense of drive, stuck to their plan and executed for a full 60 minutes. They did put forth that response following two uninspired losses yet were unable to stave off a third consecutive defeat, this one to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Taunted by a plethora of scoring chances and 14 shots on five power plays that held the hope of goals but never resulted in anything concrete, Washington fell, 3-2, to the Coyotes at Arena.

"I think the power play control the puck really well but we just didn't score," said Alex Ovechkin, who took six of the Capitals' 31 shots. "We have pretty good chances but we just didn't score. I think we just have to continue doing what we're doing right now on the power play. . . . It's a tough game but I think we play well. But if you play well and you lose it seems you played not that well."

Ovechkin wasn't the only one who came away with the sense that the Capitals had done a lot well against Phoenix. But it will remain to be seen whether the moral victory can be parlayed into a repeat performance with an alternate ending when the road trip makes it next stop, in Anaheim against the Ducks on Wednesday.

In addition to weathering Washington's desperate flurry of power play chances the Coyotes, who have won five straight contests and now sit in first place in the Pacific Division for the first time since February 2000, were able to significantly limit Washington's opportunities at even strength.

Phoenix blocked a season high 20 shots and leaned on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 29 saves and has stopped 125 of 131 shots he's faced over the last five games.

But this game escaped the Capitals by virtue of the most perplexing element of their uneven season - heir stuttering power play.

In what has become a rare sight for Washington, its unit with the man-advantage maintained puck possession, generated chances and shots but regardless of those improvements the inability to score remained. By failing to score on any of the five opportunities against the Coyotes, the Capitals are 3 for 43 (7 percent) on the power play in their last 14 games.

"They were moving it around, they looked like a power play," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Our entries were fine, I thought for sure we were going to score a couple goals on it but sometimes it's not meant to be. . . . It hurts more when you play a really good game. I thought we played a really good game tonight in all aspects and then you don't get rewarded for it."

The Capitals' chances on the power play came without the presence of two-time Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green, who missed the contest with what Boudreau said is an "inner ear trauma." The injury likely stems from when Green, who remains on the trip with the team, was struck in the head by a puck on Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh.

A slap shot by the Penguins' Brooks Orpik hit Green near his right ear in the first period of that contest, leaving a gash that required stitches. Green did not return to that game and missed the next contest, Feb. 8 against San Jose. Following the blow to the head, the defenseman cited wooziness, balance problems and Boudreau said that Green had headaches, symptoms that are consistent with a concussion.

In the first period, neither team gained much traction in the offensive zone as the unfamiliar foes tried to acclimate to the other's playing style. Washington would muster only one shot at even strength, of five total, in those opening 20 minutes but had seven attempts blocked and another eight miss the target completely.

Washington's net presence in front of Bryzgalov grew at the outset of the second period and it yielded an ugly goal, as a pass by Marcus Johansson ricocheted off Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal and in the net for a 1-0 lead. That advantage was short lived, though, as Hanzal tied the score at 1 on the next shift.

After killing off the fourth Capitals' power play of the contest, the Coyotes earned a man-advantage of their own with Scott Hannan sent off for roughing on a questionable call.

Twenty-six seconds into the power play a blast by Ray Whitney beat a screened Michal Neuvirth, who finished with 15 saves, to make it 2-1 with just more than two minutes remaining in the middle stanza.

"They've got a very mobile D that move the puck well and it's tough to get sustained pressure on them down in their end but I think overall it was a decent game - obviously we lost the special teams battle," said Matt Bradley, who scored his fourth goal of the season. "We've got to score on the power play and we can't let them score [on their power play]."

The teams exchanged goals again early in the third, with Vernon Fiddler tallying a third marker off of a 2-on-1 rush and Bradley scoring 40 seconds later to make it 3-2.

Although they closed the gap the Capitals were unable to duplicate some of the best chances that they had earlier in the contest on the power play.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company