- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio | For two games, the Washington Capitals were able to survive an incredible number of injuries and prevail.

On Saturday, strong performances by Columbus’ rookie goaltender and team captain thwarted the short-handed Caps’ chances to take three in a row. Steve Mason stopped 26 shots for his second shutout in a week, and Rick Nash had a pair of goals in a 3-0 win against Washington at Nationwide Arena.

“We didn’t create any traffic in front, but he was pretty good,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the young man. In the second period, one of the things we talked about was, ‘Listen, I’m seeing every shot from the bench, and if we’re seeing all the shots that means he is seeing everything.’”

Mason was a third-round pick by the Blue Jackets in the 2006 draft, the same year Washington selected Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Mason’s status rose dramatically when he was named the MVP and top goaltender at last year’s world junior championships.

He began this season in the minors but was recalled when starter Pascal Leclaire was injured; the 20-year-old Ontario native has been Columbus’ best netminder this season. Mason is 5-2-1 in eight starts, earning half the team’s wins.

“We might have been trying to pick corners a little bit more,” forward Eric Fehr said of facing the 6-foot-4 goaltender. “When you feel you can’t get goals, you try to pick that special corner and force the issue. I think that was the case tonight.”

For the third consecutive game, the Caps were without seven skaters. None of the five eligible to play - Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine, Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov - made the trip, but Boudreau said he hopes he may have more healthy bodies when the team practices Monday in Arlington.

There was another addition to the injury list Saturday: Rookie defenseman Karl Alzner did not play in the third period after being checked awkwardly into the boards in the second period, injuring his shoulder.

He said after the game he didn’t think it was serious, but his absence forced the Caps to use forward Brooks Laich on defense for a couple of shifts in the final period.

“I don’t think there is any excuse,” Fehr said. “We had a lot of chances and just didn’t bury them. [Brent Johnson] kept us in it. He played his heart out for us and we just couldn’t score at the other end.”

Raffi Torres collected his first goal in a Blue Jackets uniform to put Columbus on the board first. Marc Methot’s shot from the right point hit one of Fredrik Modin’s skates in front of the net, and the puck deflected to Torres near the left post for an easy tap-in at 8:01, just after a penalty to Fehr had expired.

The Caps were unable to match their fast starts from the two previous games. Modin’s goal was part of a an opening stretch for the Blue Jackets in which they outshot the Caps 10-1.

The second period was more of the same. Washington needed more than half the period to register a shot; when the chances started coming, Mason had the answers.

Nash gave the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead at 14:44 of the second. After Alzner ventured deep into the offensive zone, the Blue Jackets were able to transition the other way quickly. R.J. Umberger and Nash broke in against Milan Jurcina and Nicklas Backstrom, and the Columbus captain was afforded too much room. After a drop pass from Umberger, Nash snapped a wrist shot past Johnson.

Nash, who had a three-on-five goal last season against the Caps, added another short-handed tally in the third period. A pass from Backstrom was deflected into the neutral zone, and Nash had a head start toward the puck.

Caps defenseman Sami Lepisto couldn’t catch him, and Nash tucked a backhander between Johnson’s legs for his 12th of the season at 15:37.

While the Caps remain a dominant team on home ice (9-0-1), Nash’s second tally and fourth in two games against Washington sealed its 10th loss in 14 games away from Verizon Center this season.

“It is not acceptable,” Boudreau said. “If you want to be a good team, you’ve got to be a good road team.”

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