- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

The Washington Capitals got their holidays mixed up yesterday. Instead of ringing in the new year, the Caps thought it was Christmas and all but gift-wrapped a game to the Atlanta Thrashers at MCI Center.

With a performance that was horrifyingly similar to some of the club’s early season games, the Caps were worse than the Thrashers in every statistical category including the score — which was 5-2, but it was hardly that close.

“There’s really no excuse for it,” right wing Matt Bradley said. “It’s not like we’re tired. We had a good rest after the [shootout victory over Philadelphia on Saturday]. We just didn’t come out and play Washington Capitals hockey. They capitalized on it.”

Did they ever. The Thrashers outshot the Caps 43-21 and scored three power-play goals to the Caps’ one. The Thrashers are 3-0-2 against the Caps this season, outscoring them 27-15.

Yesterday, standout Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and helped set up two others for Atlanta. He also had 10 shots.

“I wasn’t very good tonight, either,” said goalie Olie Kolzig, who got into a minor dustup late in the game. “The first two goals, man, those are ones that I normally have … so obviously it starts with the goalie and if the goalie isn’t making the saves he’s supposed to, how can you really say anything about the rest of the team?”

The first goal said volumes about what transpired. The puck came to Marian Hossa 15 minutes into the first period as he stood on the inside edge of the left circle. In a game that was still scoreless, he had time to set the puck flat on the ice, get himself set and snap the puck under Kolzig before any defender advanced on him.

“Against that team, if we get into penalty trouble — they’ve got such a good power play and they’ve killed us all year long with it,” Kolzig said. “We just need to find a way to be more disciplined against a team like that.”

Said Caps coach Glen Hanlon: “The amount of penalties that we ended up trying to kill, it’s just those games remind me a lot of our first 10 games.”

There was more bad news for the Caps yesterday aside from the result. Veteran center and team captain Jeff Halpern left the game after one shift in the second period with an injury described by Hanlon only as “somewhere in there, between his toe and the top of his head. It’s nothing that’s going to keep him out long-term.”

Halpern is a key player for the Caps, taking most of the defensive zone draws, centering a key checking line and playing on both specialty teams.

On the positive side, rookie Alex Ovechkin extended his goal-scoring streak to six games, the longest for a Caps player since Andrew Brunette did the same in the 1997-98 season, when he played left wing on a line centered by Adam Oates.

Dainius Zubrus scored Washington’s other goal, his eighth, on an Ovechkin assist. Ovechkin has 12 points in his last six games.

Notes — Defenseman Nolan Yonkman was a healthy scratch for the 15th time in the last 17 games. So was veteran center Andrew Cassels. Jeff Friesen and goalie Brent Johnson, both with groin problems, were medical scratches. … The Caps sent center Dave Steckel back to Hershey and goalie Maxime Daigneault (an injury call-up) back to South Carolina. … Atlanta’s Peter Bondra, out since Dec.3 with a severe groin injury, did not play against the Caps. He may return in two weeks, but hasn’t been on skates since he was hurt. The Thrashers signed Bondra after he rejected an offer with more guaranteed money from the Caps. He holds most of Washington’s offensive records. … The Caps play host to Ottawa on Wednesday. The Senators are coached by former Caps coach Bryan Murray.

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