One game remains for the Washington Capitals to salvage something of their West Coast trip. What began so well a week ago, with a quick 2-0 lead over Phoenix, has disintegrated. They ended up allowing two third-period goals to the Coyotes, settling for a 2-2 tie. Then Los Angeles whipped Washington, 5-2. Friday night Anaheim did the damage, scoring the game's first three goals en route to a 5-2 victory.
The Capitals (2-5-2) are winless in their past five games (0-4-1), one short of tying last season's record for futility. They have been outscored 23-9 in that span, and held to two goals or fewer in all five games. They have just two goals from their defense (both by Calle Johansson), fewest in the NHL. They are tied with Tampa Bay for the most goals allowed per game. Washington hopes to reverse those trends when it faces a tough Sharks team here Sunday night.
Despite the lopsided result against the Mighty Ducks, there was optimism in the dressing room following a solid effort, though chronic problems persist.
"I think it's a positive," Coach Ron Wilson said. "We worked really hard and came out ready to play and their good guys beat us, plain and simple. It wasn't their second, third and fourth line, it was their top line. We made some turnovers, and we have to get rid of the turnovers. They are all correctable mistakes. Now it's a matter of correcting them. It had nothing to do with effort. I thought the guys played hard all the way through."
There are some bright spots. Gritty winger Steve Konowalchuk continues to be the Capitals' most complete forward, and scored his second goal of the season in the third period Friday, to go with five assists.
Konowalchuk's center, Jan Bulis, assisted on the goal and has eight points in nine games--not bad for a 21-year-old. That line, with Richard Zednik, has been Washington's best all season. Peter Bondra is still on a tear, scoring a power-play goal Friday--his eighth score of the season. But the right wing is carrying a heavy load, accounting for more than a third of the team's goals this season (22).
The penalty killing is much improved since dropping to worst overall, allowing just one power-play goal in the past four games despite facing the team with the NHL's best power play this season (Los Angeles) and the team that led the league in that category last season (Anaheim). The Capitals also showed much more life Friday, pushing the Mighty Ducks until the end and creating lots of offensive chances.
"I don't think [Friday's] game was as bad as the score showed," Konowalchuk said. "We're going through a tough time, but I think we're seeing some positive things out there. We have to focus on the positives."
However, the Capitals keep turning the puck over at their own blue line--a fatal faux pas--and are prone to crucial lapses when defensemen try to be too fancy with the puck and when forwards don't get back to provide enough support.
Friday night the Capitals actually outplayed three of Anaheim's offensive lines, but had no answer for the dynamic tandem of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.
Anaheim's top line scorched the Capitals for nine points in their first meeting--a 7-1 victory at MCI Center--and duplicated the output in the rematch. Kariya and Selanne had four points each, and their center, Matt Cullen, added an assist.
The Capitals could not contain the line's speed and skill and Mighty Ducks Coach Craig Hartsburg exploited the Capitals by getting Kariya on the ice often against the line of Adam Oates, Bondra and James Black (a combined minus-12). That line was on the ice for four goals; the Capitals' top defensive pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Joe Reekie was on the ice for three of the five goals.
It won't get any easier. The Sharks' top line--Owen Nolan, Jeff Friesen and Vincent Damphousse--is the NHL's second-most productive. Nolan is tied for the league lead in points. The line was in on two of the Sharks' three goals in their 3-2 win over Washington earlier this month--the loss that began the Capitals' rut.