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Scoring troubling Caps

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After yesterday's 3-2 defeat by the Buffalo Sabres, the Washington Capitals have lost four straight games by a goal. That, of course, means any missing offense is a matter of serious concern.

Alex Ovechkin, the heralded rookie who scored 15 goals in his first 19 games, is scoreless in his last five. Considering he is responsible for more than 20 percent of the club's total offense and nobody else has stepped up to fill the void, it has become a problem.

Ovechkin was shut out again yesterday as Buffalo survived because of the second short-handed gift goal surrendered by the Caps in as many games.

"I'm not concerned from his standpoint. I'm concerned because when you're [23] percent of the scoring and that percentage is gone, we've got to make it up," coach Glen Hanlon said. "We have 15 power-play goals. He's got six [of them], so that's the concern. I'm not concerned on an individual standpoint because I'm quite sure he's going to score a goal again this year."

No one will argue that point, but Ovechkin's last goal was in the second period against Buffalo on Nov. 17, and the Caps now have fallen to 8-14-2. While it is obvious Ovechkin continues to work hard, his efforts are not being rewarded. Hanlon doesn't think the left wing is pressing or losing patience.

"Part of his development is understanding that there's some pretty good coaching and some pretty good players [in the NHL]," the coach said. "You can catch some people off-guard at the start with one dimensional play, with speed and beating people wide. But they counter. Coaches counter this attack, and you have to learn to score all different ways. You have to learn what we call the 2-1-1 game where you're supporting, passing and finding holes. That's the next part of his development."

Meanwhile, for the fourth time in the last eight games Washington virtually gave the opposing goalie the night off, taking 20 or fewer shots. The Caps took only three shots on goalie Martin Biron in the first 20 minutes and had only 11 after two periods. Washington ended the game with a furious burst with an extra attacker on the ice but mostly shot wide, high or off pipes and ended up with just 19 shots on goal.

"We threw everything we could at him, and he makes a huge save on his brother [Washington defenseman Mathieu] in the second," defenseman Jamie Heward said. "We get that one, maybe the tide turns for us, but it was just one of those games we didn't do enough to throw pucks at the net offensively to create the same second opportunities we did in New York."

Steve Eminger tied the game at 1-1 in the second period with his first goal since Oct. 13, but rookie Thomas Vanek put Buffalo back in front before the end of the period. Jochen Hecht scored a short-handed goal with less than four minutes left for the winning margin after Matt Pettinger pulled the Caps within one.

"If you want to concentrate on the last minute of play, they played a heck of a game," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "We had two guys without sticks, and they had their goalie pulled. We caught a break by one going off the crossbar and one going off the post. Other than that, I really liked our game."

Notes -- Defenseman Brendan Witt sat out with a "lower body" injury and is officially listed as day-to-day. Biron took his place for his first action in 10 games. ...

Longtime goalie coach Dave Prior fainted in the press box toward the end of the second period and fell again in the men's room. The Caps said he was examined thoroughly by team medical personnel and there was no apparent reason for the fainting spells. He will be examined again today at a hospital.

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