- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

It was a woeful offensive performance by the Washington Capitals. They looked out of sync on offense, sometimes clueless, in their loss to the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on Tuesday.

Shockingly, no one looked worse than the Caps’ biggest star, Alex Ovechkin, who went scoreless for the third straight game and drew a damaging delay of game penalty that led to a Bruins power-play goal that tied the score at 2-2.

It was a very familiar performance, though, for Washington sports fans. They’ve seen it before, too many times, in a different sports venue — FedEx Field.

Yes, it was a very Redskins-like effort, and that might have been no coincidence: Quarterback Mark Brunell was in the house.

Not only was Brunell in the house, but Caps owner Ted Leonsis took him down into the locker room after the loss. Brunell met Ovechkin and told him, “You played well tonight. Good job.”

I thought Ovechkin was going to throw up on Brunell’s shoes when he said that.

Ovechkin was distraught. Five minutes after the game, he was in the weight room, probably trying to bench-press away his frustration. He also sought refuge in the sauna, hoping to sweat it out. And when he did finally speak to reporters, he didn’t exactly have the same view of his performance as Brunell.

“Today was my terrible game in my whole career here,” Ovechkin said. “It was my fault when it was 2-1 and I have penalty, so it was my fault we lose game.”

The scene gave a glimpse of Ovechkin’s expectations and his tolerance for failure. The expectations are high, the tolerance low. That, perhaps more than anything else, is why the Caps continue to show progress toward becoming a Stanley Cup contender. The NHL’s biggest star clearly isn’t going to accept losing for very long.

The Caps have been maddening this year. There were no playoff expectations entering the season, but the Caps created a few with their surprising play early on. The star power of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, who rank second in the league as a goal-scoring duo with 62, certainly raised interest and hopes.

But now the Caps have fallen back to where most figured they’d be at this point: a little better than last season but still not quite a playoff team.

Going into tonight’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Caps are 22-25-8. Last year at the same point, they were 19-31-5.

The rest of the season promises more of the same: up-and-down performances and a finish short of the playoffs. Before the season, the Caps figured to need 92 points for a postseason berth. They have 52, with 27 games remaining. They are not likely to reach that goal.

And even if the Caps somehow squeezed in, what would be the point of a one-and-done playoff series beating?

The Caps are young and have talented players, but they are not quite dangerous enough yet to beat an elite team.

Next year, this franchise will have to show much more than this to get people into the seats at Verizon Center and gain some of the love showered on the Wizards this winter.

More than that, though, they need to win to keep their superstar happy and interested enough to believe he is part of a future as special as his talent.

When asked about Ovechkin’s three-game scoring drought, coach Glen Hanlon said, “It’s not the worst thing in the world to face a little bit of adversity, as far as scoring because it makes you pay attention to the defensive side of things, and it is a test. I am not concerned about it because we know he is going to score.

“I am just happy our team has made this turnaround defensively, not only on goals a game, but shots a game. In the long run, that is going to win us hockey games.”

He’s right. There won’t be many games in which the Caps outshoot a team 34-24 and lose and Ovechkin gets shut out, as was the case against the Bruins.

But this stretch of games has reminded everyone this team remains a work in progress — but it had better continue to progress, because, in the long run keeping Ovechkin happy is also going to win them hockey games.

As Ovechkin was leaving Verizon Center with his family Tuesday night, a security guard operating the elevator smiled and said, “Good game, man.”

There are benefits to not playing in a hockey town. You play the worst game of your career and almost no one notices.

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