Coyotes 2, Capitals 1

The Washington Capitals controlled the puck for what seemed like minutes at a time yesterday against Phoenix. They produced scoring chance after scoring chance, and held the Coyotes to six shots through 40 minutes of play.

It wasn't enough. Undone by a defensive breakdown in the third period and a hard yet wobbly wrist shot in overtime that trickled past goaltender Olaf Kolzig, the Capitals allowed the Coyotes to extend the game and then sneak out of MCI Center with a 2-1 victory, a result that left the Capitals one point short of tying Tampa Bay for first place in the Southeast Division.

"We outplayed them in every aspect of the game," said Washington winger Dainius Zubrus. "Their goaltender was hot. And we gave them two scoring chances the whole game and they scored on them both. I'm happy with the effort but not happy with the result."

Despite out-shooting the Coyotes by a 32-14 margin in front of 14,417, only a second-period slap shot by defenseman Sergei Gonchar eluded Phoenix goaltender Sean Burke. Gonchar's power-play score put the Capitals ahead 1-0, but the lead soon evaporated.

Midway through the third period, Washington defenseman Ken Klee tripped while chasing down Coyotes winger Ladislav Nagy, who easily skated around the fallen Capital before faking Kolzig and tying the game on the Coyotes' 11th shot of the game.

The Capitals' collapse was complete 1 minute 20 seconds into the overtime session when Kolzig was unable to stop Tony Amonte's wrist shot from the left circle.

And, like that, the Capitals -- although they did earn a point for the regulation tie -- were left with their second overtime loss in three games.

"I don't think Phoenix had a lot to offer the first two periods," Washington Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "They seemed to be content just sitting back and waiting for their chances. . . . I don't think we could have done a better job shutting a team down.

"You're going to have nights when their goalie outplays your goalie," Cassidy added. "That's the way it goes. If we play like that for 82 games, we'll win our division."

The Caps (18-16-3-2) could start by simply getting to first place -- something they could have achieved with a win. Washington entered the day trailing the idle Lightning by two points in the division. Now, they are one point behind Tampa Bay's 42.

Despite the loss, the Capitals feel they are in prime position to make a strong bid for a playoff spot over the next month. Five of their next seven games are at MCI Center (where the Capitals are 11-6-0), and 10 of this month's 15 games are at home, including Friday's game against Columbus. The level of competition also favors the Capitals -- only four of those games are against teams currently above .500.

"We played a pretty decent game," said defenseman Calle Johansson. "We just needed to get some more goals, obviously. [Burke] played well. I don't think he made many unbelievable saves; we shot the puck into his chest a few times. He's that type of goalie. If you let him stop you early, he can get hot. . . . But I don't think he's the reason we lost. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot, but there's no point in dwelling on losing a point."

Washington's energetic checking line of Mike Grier, Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk set the tone early with their dogged defense, their persistent digging in the corners and by generating numerous quality scoring chances. They were finally rewarded midway through the second period when the trio forced Phoenix into taking two penalties simultaneously, setting up a 5-on-3 power play, which Gonchar converted with a slap shot from the point at 9 minutes 39 seconds.

But missed opportunities and a pair of Washington miscues were only minutes away.

"I don't think that was the perfect script," Burke said. "But we'll take the result. Sometimes if you can weather the storm, that starts to play on their mind. In the third period we got the sense that if we got some opportunities, even though we got outplayed, that we could win the game. And that's exactly what happened."

Capitals Notes: Right wing Peter Bondra, the Capitals' fifth-leading scorer with 15 goals and nine assists, sat out with the flu. A team official said Bondra is not expected to miss any more playing time. . . .

Johansson received a standing ovation when it was announced over the public address system that he had tied Kelly Miller's franchise record for games played with 940. He can set the record Friday night. . . .

Phoenix, which was without six injured players, leads the league in man-games lost (200) because of injury and is on pace to challenge the record of 535 set in 1999-2000 by the Montreal Canadiens.

Dainius Zubrus is outnumbered by Coyotes' Shane Doan, left, and Ossi Vaananen as Capitals failed to hold 1-0 lead.Robert Lang, right, and Coyotes' Radoslav Suchy scramble against the wall during the first period. The Caps lost despite outshooting Phoenix 32-14.