- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

The Vancouver Canucks are superior to the Washington Capitals at full strength. Give one of the NHL’s best teams a stream of power plays, and a blowout is almost guaranteed.

That’s what happened as the Canucks converted three second-period power plays, including a pair with a two-man advantage, to rout the undermanned Caps 6-1 last night at MCI Center. The loss snapped Washington’s hopes of achieving a season-high three-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, the surging Canucks — who scored on four of seven power plays overall — won their fifth straight by posting an NHL-high 16th road victory.

The first goal of Wade Brookbank’s career came at even strength and gave the Canucks the lead for good at 2-1 at 8:19 of the second. That preceded the extra-man onslaught that did not end until the visitors skated to the locker room with a 5-1 lead after the second period.

Markus Nasland began shredding what had been the Caps’ strength recently — penalty killing. The Canucks’ star beat goalie Olie Kolzig 11 seconds into a two-man advantage at 13:32 of the second. Trevor Linden scored on another 5-on-3 situation at 19:19, and Jarkko Ruutu provided the third dagger on a traditional power play with three seconds left in the period.

“We came out flat tonight for some reason,” Caps forward Mike Grier said. “We made the mistake of going 5-on-3 twice. They have too much talent out there to do that. We hung Olie out to dry and were never in the game tonight.”

The Caps were playing without Jason Doig, their most physical defenseman, who served the first of a two-game suspension. Washington clearly missed his physical and emotional presence. Steve Eminger was called up from the minors to fill in for Doig but did little to slow the barrage.

It didn’t help that Washington’s offense was inept, with only eight shots in the first two periods, while Vancouver peppered Kolzig with 29. The Canucks outshot Washington 40-16 overall.

Nasland’s score came with Caps defenseman Brendan Witt off with a slashing penalty and Eminger in the box for high sticking. Nasland, the NHL’s points leader with 63, easily beat Kolzig from inside the right circle. His 29th goal beat Kolzig wide as the goalie guessed wrong and broke to his left.

Nasland assisted on the next score with Witt off for crosschecking and Jeff Halpern serving a four-minute penalty for high sticking. Nasland’s shot from the right side bounced off the left post, and Linden easily slammed it in to make it 4-1. Ruutu pushed the margin to four with a blast from beyond the right circle at 19:57.

“The players that took the penalties I am not going to say anything about,” said Caps coach Glen Hanlon, who felt many other mistakes allowed so many pucks deep into the Washington zone. “Halpy has played his heart out for us, and Witter has been a tower of power back there. Sometimes I felt our hockey team was lacking initiative, and I felt they were lacking a physical presence. Brendan tried to bring it.”

Vancouver, whose 69 points are the second most in the NHL, dominated play in the first period but somehow skated off in a 1-1 tie.

The Canucks scored just 26 seconds in on a spinning shot from the right of the top of the crease by Brad May after Kolzig had trouble locating the puck.

The Caps scored their only goal 50 seconds later on their first shot of the night on another odd goal. Robert Lang was skating toward the blue line when he dumped the puck behind him toward the net. Halpern and Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund were battling for position in front of the net when the puck somehow went though them and between the legs of goalie Dan Cloutier.

Lang momentarily took over the NHL’s points lead from Naslund with 25th goal and 62nd point of the season. Sami Salo scored the game’s final goal on another power play 1:24 into the third.

“We just needed energy,” Hanlon said. “We feel that we have enough [talent] to be competitive if we play with structure and pursue the puck. And we didn’t get that tonight.”

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