The anger and frustration poured forth from Olaf Kolzig as he lifted his stick to the sky and smashed it to the ice. The Washington Capitals goalie had been left to fend for himself yet again--a common theme in this young season--this time twice on consecutive rushes in the third period tonight.
Kolzig's stick splintered, snapping in half before the goalie tossed it to the blue line as the Los Angeles Kings celebrated. They had scored twice in 33 seconds, blowing open a tie game en route to a 5-2 victory at Staples Center. A game the Capitals (2-4-2) once led 2-0 was hopelessly lost amid a series of defensive blunders.
"I should have gone out there and started to smash it too," Coach Ron Wilson said. "It's awfully frustrating. I really don't know what to say. . . . We're making breakdowns you hope a Bantam or Pee-Wee team don't make."
The Capitals entered the third period tied at 2, and Kolzig immediately had to stop Glen Murray on a short-handed breakaway. The real collapse came about eight minutes later.
Defenseman Calle Johansson was left alone on a three-on-one, with the Capitals caught in a poor line change. Rob Blake's slap shot gave the Kings the lead. On the next shift no one picked up Bryan Smolinski in front of the goal, and he bulled to the net and tucked the puck under Kolzig's arm.
Donald Audette ended any hopes of another third-period comeback--the Capitals rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit against the Kings about two weeks ago--by scoring untouched from the side of the net with about eight minutes to play.
A quality start, improved penalty killing, the potential for a quality win on the road, all were wasted. Capitals sniper Peter Bondra opened the scoring with an unassisted short-handed goal, just as he did Saturday night in Phoenix. Former Capitals defenseman Gary Galley couldn't handle a pass at the blue line and Bondra darted to the face-off circle, froze Galley and goalie Jamie Storr by stopping suddenly, then ripped a wrist shot into the far corner, 11 minutes 29 seconds into the game.
Bondra has six goals in his last seven games, is tied for the NHL lead with two short-handed goals and is Washington's all-time leader with 24 career short-handed tallies. He has seven goals this season; the Capitals have scored 20.
Less than three minutes later, Storr was fooled again, this time on the power play. Steve Konowalchuk and Richard Zednik worked the boards, freeing the puck for Jan Bulis. Bulis, second on the team with seven points, promptly dished to Johansson darting to the low slot, where his wicked slap shot is particularly lethal. Storr, making his first start of the season, was beaten to the short side, the blast sending his water bottle flying.
The Capitals were primed to put away the game. The building was so quiet you could hear Wilson barking instructions all the way in the upper deck. The Kings were reeling. But one poor shift turned all that around.
Washington's checking line was beaten repeatedly to loose pucks, failing to clear the zone. Defenseman Aki Berg capped the flurry by keeping the puck in at the blue line and firing. Luc Robitaille's pretty backhanded deflection netted his ninth goal of the season, while Ken Klee struggled to tie him up.
Los Angeles tied the game, thanks to more breakdowns. Audette was left alone for a backdoor pass and nudged the puck in easily, about eight minutes into the second period. The Capitals had blown a two-goal lead for the second straight game. Things only got worse from there.
"We self-destructed," Klee said. "We turned the puck over way too frequently and they're a team that lives for turnovers. We've got to start playing as a team."