Thrashers 5, Capitals 4
If he could do it over again, Brendan Witt would chip the puck off the boards, over the glass, back to goaltender Olaf Kolzig or any place other than where he passed it today with the game in the balance.
Witt's ill-advised cross-ice pass landed right on the stick of Atlanta's Tony Hrkac, who wheeled to the outside of defenseman Calle Johansson and launched a shot past Kolzig with 64 seconds to play, giving the Thrashers a 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals at Philips Arena. Washington had scored twice in the final minutes to tie the score before the blunder iced the defeat.
"It was a stupid turnover," said Witt, who thought he saw a play developing on the far side. "I shouldn't have done it, especially with a minute left. It was a stupid thing, it was unlike me and it cost us. If I go off the boards with it, they don't even get in our end, and we probably get the [standings] point. I'm the one to blame on this."
The defeat, to the second-worst team in the NHL, was the latest in a string of nasty setbacks. Washington (10-13-2) is three games under .500 for the first time this season. The club is in a 2-7-1 slump and has allowed 28 goals in the last seven games. The Capitals' road record is 4-8-2; this was the first in a stretch of eight games during which seven are away from home.
The first 25 games of Bruce Cassidy's NHL coaching career have been tumultuous, with his team capable of anything from greatness to utter futility on any given night. Today the Capitals moved to a trapping system, trying to overcome the defensive mistakes from Friday's 6-2 loss to Ottawa, but were crushed by poor individual decisions, something that has occurred with regularity.
"Does that mean we're not good enough?" Cassidy said. "Does that mean we're not well-coached? I don't know what the [heck] it means, to tell you the truth, but it means we'd better start to learn how to win and be able to deal with success, because a lot of times [mistakes] happen right after we score a big goal or have a good shift."
Such was the case today. Every time the Capitals did something well, they offset it with mistakes. They scored first -- quite a rarity -- then gave back two goals. They drew vital power plays then squandered the opportunities. They played stout defense for stretches then wilted at key moments.
Dainius Zubrus provided the opening goal by crashing the net about nine minutes in, just the ninth time this season Washington has opened the scoring. Zubrus, who has goals in his last three games after failing to score in his first 18 games, had to leave the game after one period, however, when he re-injured his right hand.
Washington held that lead for less than three minutes, then yielded two goals in less than three minutes, both to Atlanta's no-frills fourth line. Pascal Rheaume and Chris Herperger scored from a similar spot near the crease with the defense failing to pick them up.
"It seems like the same old thing -- several breakdowns as a team," captain Steve Konowalchuk said. "That's what we've got to quit having."
Mike Grier tied the score with 67 seconds left in the opening period, holding his position in the crease and scoring in his sixth goal of the season and fifth in the last eight games. Momentum rested with the Capitals, but they wasted three straight chances on the power play in the second period, and Atlanta, stymied for much of the period, went ahead, 3-2, 93 seconds before the second intermission on Mark Hartigan's first NHL goal off another play in the crease.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar crept undetected to the net to tie the score 11:35 into the third period, but Witt could not contain Andy Sutton 45 seconds later, and the Thrashers led again. Jaromir Jagr tied the score one last time, 1:52 after Sutton's goal, firing blindly at the net from about 25 feet out and surprising goalie Byron Dafoe, a lucky break the Capitals ultimately squandered.