- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Washington Capitals lost a game yesterday that seemingly was tilted in their favor from the start.

Phoenix traveled across the country to get to the District after playing Saturday night. They arrived having won only four of 17 road games. They ranked ahead of only one team in the NHL on the power play and two teams on the penalty kill. And they had only one player with more than nine goals, and he signed as a free agent a month after the season started.

But the Coyotes scored three goals in the first period, including two with a man advantage, and held on for a 3-2 win before a Verizon Center crowd announced as 12,579.

The game came down to two things. First, the Caps had to get off to a commanding start against a tired team on the road, which didn’t happen. Second, the Caps had to score when golden opportunities were presented, such as a two-man advantage for 58 seconds that came five minutes into the third period in one-goal game. On a power play lasting more than three continuous minutes, the Caps got only two shots and did not score.

As a result, Washington lost its fifth straight and seventh in eight games.

“We had our opportunities with power plays,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “We had a lot of jump from the 10-minute mark of the first period. We had the opportunities, but we just didn’t score. It goes to the old cliche: If you don’t score with a 5-on-3, you usually don’t win the game. It came down to a specialty-teams game, and we lost the game.”

Washington’s special teams, improving through much of the season, have fallen flat lately.

“That 5-on-3, I think we had chances to score, [but] we’re just not finishing,” said Dainius Zubrus, the center of the first power-play unit. “I don’t think we’re getting enough shots. We think about it; we talk about getting more shots from the point, but we don’t do it. If we win special teams today, we get a couple power play goals and we win the game. But we haven’t been able to get the power play going for the last couple games.”

Actually, during the downhill eight-game stretch the power play hasn’t been all that bad, with Washington connecting 17.8 percent of the time. But the penalty killing has been dreadful, dipping below 68 percent for the eight games.

The lapse in penalty killing has come from having the team’s best enforcer in front of the cage, John Erskine, out with a foot injury, having other players out — although none with the flu bug that had hit the team hard — and not being able to establish any cohesiveness.

Zubrus said he did not like to use the word “frustrated” because he felt it didn’t do any good, but clearly the Caps are becoming so at their inability to do things they did with ease just a few weeks ago.

“If you don’t score a couple times and you lose the puck, you get a little frustrated, but that doesn’t help,” he said. “We got to forget about it and use the next power play, battle harder for pucks in the corners and get off more shots. Because when we do get shots off it seems they pick them up and throw them off.”

The Caps fell behind just 2:02 into yesterday’s game. Owen Nolan camped in front of goalie Olie Kolzig and easily tipped a pass from Yanic Perreault — the team’s leading goal scorer with 11. Keith Ballard and Shane Doan also scored in the first for Phoenix with defenseman Brian Pothier getting his first as a Caps player. Brian Sutherby scored for Washington in the second, but the club had nothing to offer during the last 28 minutes, including the last 1:19 with Kolzig pulled and Washington a man up.

Notes — After losing seven man-games in each of their previous two games, the Caps were down to just five man-games lost yesterday — four to injury and Donald Brashear to a one-game suspension. Still out long term after surgeries are forwards Richard Zednik (abdomen) and Matt Bradley (hand), while defensemen Erskine and Bryan Muir are out with broken bones in their feet. Brashear’s suspension was for yesterday only. …

Center Dave Steckel was returned to Hershey of the American Hockey League after the game.

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