Devils 4, Capitals 3
It's a refrain heard in the Washington Capitals' locker room following close defeats. Yesterday, after the Capitals dropped a 4-3 decision to the New Jersey Devils, it was repeated by right wing Matt Bradley.
"For our team to be successful against a team like that," Bradley said, "it has to be a full 60-minute performance. We take a two- or three-minute-long lapse, they score two quick goals. They can afford to do that, we can't."
Bradley was referring to the final minutes of the second period at MCI Center, where, after his goal tied the score 1-1, the Devils struck twice in a span of 3 minutes 56 seconds to seize control of a game that had been up for grabs. Bradley's comments, though specifically aimed at that second-period regression, could have referred to almost any of his clubs' defeats.
"They get two goals, got a little momentum going into the third period," Capitals Captain Jeff Halpern said. "We came out flat and the fourth goal was a bit of a backbreaker."
Something else that's been repeated often this season: Glen Hanlon saying he likes his team's chances when Olie Kolzig is in goal. Although the coach has never publicly handicapped the Capitals' odds when Kolzig isn't, he doesn't have to. The results do that for him.
The Capitals are 0-3 without the veteran goaltender, who missed yesterday's game with a strained leg muscle. Frederic Cassivi was called up from the Hershey (Pa.) Bears of the American Hockey League Thursday, and yesterday made his first NHL start since February 2003. The Capitals' regular backup, Brent Johnson, remained on the bench.
Cassivi, a 30-year-old with a grand total of nine NHL appearances, had an uneven performance. He turned away 26 shots, but allowed two goals he probably shouldn't have, including the Devils' fourth, a wrist shot by Scott Gomez that was the "backbreaker" Halpern was talking about. Gomez's score put the Devils ahead 4-1 and the game out of the Capitals' reach.
At the other end, Martin Brodeur (21 saves) spent much of the afternoon frustrating the Capitals' forwards. But late in the third period, the New Jersey goalie, playing for the first time in six games because of a knee injury, and the defense-first Devils were suddenly vulnerable.
Halpern turned a horrendous give-away by Vladimir Malakhov into his first goal of the season. Then Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin scored to make it 4-3 with 9:25 left.
It wasn't enough, but Ovechkin's play, as it has all season, impressed the opposing players. Ovechkin not only scored his 13th goal and fifth in three games, he delivered one of the Capitals' best hits in recent memory when he flattened rugged Devils defenseman Colin White along the end boards.
"It was a clean hit," White said. "He never slows down."
Cassivi wasn't the only player to make his debut in a Capitals uniform. Defenseman Ivan Majesky was playing competitively for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury while representing Slovakia in the world championships last May.
It was clear moments into the game that Majesky still had some rust. His weak clearing attempt, late in the first period, wound up on the stick of New Jersey's Grant Marshall, who controlled the puck, took two strides toward the Capitals' net and whipped the puck past Cassivi to put the Devils ahead 1-0.
That's the way it remained until 15:02 of the second period, when Bradley beat Brodeur to even the score. But it didn't stay like that for long.
Zach Parise restored the Devils' lead 41 seconds later, one-timing the puck off of Cassivi's glove and into net. About four minutes later, Brian Gionta, on a power play, extended New Jersey's lead to 3-1 with a low shot.
Capitals Note: Yesterday's Veterans Day matinee drew an announced crowd of 11,173, but significantly fewer were actually in the seats.