- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

Atlanta Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen made a lot of first saves last night, but he didn’t have too make many second ones.

Lehtonen stopped 36 shots and Todd White scored for the fourth time in five games against the Washington Capitals this season to help the Thrashers steal a critical division game 2-0 at Verizon Center.

Part of it was because of Lehtonen’s solid rebound control, but part of it came from a reoccurring theme for the Caps when the offense sputters — not enough traffic in front of the net. Most of the shots on net were from intermediate-to-long distances, and Lehtonen had a clear view for almost all of them.

“I don’t think we got enough traffic in front of him to make his night hard enough,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “Sometimes we get caught watching the shooter instead of standing in front of the net. ” As forwards we have to pay more of a price to get into the scoring area.”

The Caps outshot the Thrashers 36-13, including an 8-2 advantage in the first period. Atlanta, playing its third game in four nights and missing superstar left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, eschewed its typical style of play for a more defensive brand of hockey.

While the Caps controlled the puck for long stretches and netminder Olie Kolzig was not tested often, the Thrashers’ plan worked to perfection.

The defeat snapped a five-game home winning streak for Washington and a five-game run against teams from the Southeast Division. Earlier this week the Caps were one point from the division lead and alone in second place. The loss, combined with Florida’s win, has Washington tied with the Panthers — three points behind both Carolina and Atlanta.

“It’s tough [to lose.] This is playoff hockey,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Tight checking and everybody doing their job and here it’s like a playoff-type hockey game because both teams know what’s at stake.”

It took the Atlanta Thrashers nearly 50 minutes to reach double digits in shots on net, but No. 11 was the winner. Mark Recchi, who now has 104 career points against the Caps, fed a pass from near the left wall to White, who skating down the slot. White stopped the pass with his right skate, kicked it to his stick and put a wrist shot past Kolzig with 8:26 left.

The Caps pulled Kolzig in favor of an extra attacker with 1:43 remaining, but Lehtonen gloved their best chance — an Alex Ovechkin slapshot from the right point with 51 seconds remaining. Marian Hossa iced the contest with an empty-netter — set up by Recchi — with 39.3 seconds left.

How improbable was the offensive power outage? Atlanta entered the night with a league-worst 176 goals against. Conversely, the Caps have been one of the top offensive teams in the NHL since Boudreau became coach. They have 101 goals (3.3 a game before last night) since he replaced Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving.

But Ovechkin’s virtuoso performance in a 5-4 win Thursday night masked a disturbing recent trend — Caps not named Ovechkin or Viktor Kozlov are suddenly struggling to score goals. In the past five games Washington has nine goals — five by Ovechkin, two by Kozlov and two by the team’s other 16 skaters.

“It’s like they are sitting back going, ‘Hey, Alex, you score a couple goals early in the game, we’ll defend it,’ ” Boudreau said. “That’s not how you win a division or make the playoffs or win consistently.”

It was a bit of a ragged contest, and the playing surface might have been part of the problem. There was a Wizards game Friday night and a Georgetown game yesterday afternoon, and combined with the extra heat from the large crowd, players were slipping and the puck was taking some unusual bounces.

“The ice was absolutely garbage tonight,” Kolzig said. “We couldn’t settle the puck down at all or make flat passes but they were playing on the same ice so we can’t make any excuses there.”

Notes — Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn returned to the lineup after missing four of the past five games with a bruised foot. …

Captain Chris Clark remained out for the 27th time in 28 games because of a groin injury. …

Defenseman Brian Pothier missed his 12th straight contest with a concussion.

Caps report

Last night atVerizon Center

Quotable

“I think they are lazy penalties. The hook — that’s the fourth or fifth time that we’ve had a power play that it’s happened. That can’t happen. We’ll have to address it.”

— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on two penalties by Alexander Semin that negated power-play opportunities

OVECHKIN WATCH

Alex Ovechkin’s five-point Thursday night moved him to the top of the NHL scoring list, but it also accomplished several other things.

Entering last night’s action, he had scored 43 of the team’s 150 goals, which moved him ahead of Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk for highest percentage of his team’s goals (28.7 percent).

Ovechkin has also recorded a point on 70 of the team’s 150 goals (46.7 percent), which is also now the highest percentage in the league. He also moved into 14th place on the Caps’ career goal list with 141 ” one more than Dmitri Khristich and three behind Sergei Gonchar.

Corey Masisak

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