Mighty Ducks 3, Capitals 0

Anaheim defenseman Pavel Trnka stood behind the red line, 115 feet away from the net, and fired the puck off the boards, merely hoping to dump the puck in the offensive zone. Sebastien Charpentier, the Washington Capitals' rookie goalie, expected the puck to slide along the boards and was already leaving his crease.

By the time Charpentier realized the puck had taken a strange carom and was heading directly into the vacant net, it was too late. He dived back in vain as the puck tucked into the far side of the net for Anaheim's second goal in a 3-0 loss at the Arrowhead Pond tonight, a freakish break that symbolized the Capitals' season of frustration.

"You can't really fault the goalie. He's trying to play the puck and it just took a bad bounce," Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Obviously it could have been a different game if that puck doesn't go in, but we'll never know."

"We're trying to be more aggressive and help the defensemen," said Charpentier, explaining the team's desire to have its goaltender cutoff passes and dump-ins around the net. "It was just an unlucky bounce."

Washington (12-15-2; 5-10-2 on the road) fell to three games below .500, a season low, despite outplaying Anaheim for stretches and showing a commitment to team defense largely lacking thus far. The Capitals have just four wins in the last 14 games and must head to Phoenix, San Jose and Colorado before completing this demanding trip.

Uneven play on special teams, a constant this season, resulted in tonight's setback. Kip Miller and Peter Bondra took successive penalties in the first period, negating a power play and creating problems for the team's struggling penalty killers, ranked 26th of 30 teams entering this game.

The Capitals were extremely disruptive during most of that extended penalty kill, but still conceded the opening goal late in the first period (Washington has scored first in just 10 of 29 games this season). Charpentier, starting in place of the injured Olaf Kolzig, was unable to curtail a dump pass behind his net, the Ducks recovered the puck and Mike Leclerc fed defenseman Fredrik Olausson slipping in from the point. Olausson, playing his 1,000th NHL game tonight, banged a shot to the far side, beating Charpentier's stick hand.

The young goalie faced only seven shots in the period, benefiting from some rare defensive hockey in front of him, but most of the scoring chances were high quality. Charpentier leapt through the crease and made a stick save on Leclerc, and stopped Paul Kariya from point-blank range.

Washington had a great opportunity to tie the game before the first intermission when Stanislav Christov received a four-minute penalty for high sticking Robert Lang. The Capitals could not fool Jean-Sebastien Giguere (26 saves to earn his second straight shutout), however, with Mike Grier and Steve Konowalchuk providing the most serious opposition to the goalie, and Washington's heavily gifted power play went 0 for 7 tonight during 12 minutes 18 seconds of time on the ice.

"Obviously special teams was the difference in the game," Cassidy said.

Trnka's fluke goal came about six minutes into the second period. Coach Bruce Cassidy leaned against the back of the bench, visibly disgusted, while his assistant, Glen Hanlon, worked the players, clapping his hands and trying to pump up the club as dejection loomed.

The Capitals dominated the duration of the period, but could not find chemistry around the net. Michael Nylander was unable to put several chances past Giguere. Nylander did not muster a shot on a breakaway early in the third period, and his 10-game scoring streak, during which he amassed 20 points, was snapped.

The power play sputtered through the third period (it is in a 2-for 29 slump over seven games), blowing two more chances in a non-threatening manner. Andy McDonald scored in an empty net with 40 seconds to play, and the Capitals were blanked for the second time this season.

Steve Konowalchuck, checked by Ducks' Kurt Sauer, tries to stuff puck past goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.Fredrik Olausson rests after giving Mighty Ducks a 1-0 lead. It was his 1,000th career game. The Caps' three games under .500, have just four wins in last 14 games.