- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Washington Capitals have been the best team in the NHL in the first period this season. Somehow, against the league’s worst team it was their effort the first 20 minutes that failed them.

Eric Staal had two goals and three assists Monday night, and the Carolina Hurricanes surprised the Caps 6-3 at Verizon Center. Carolina grabbed a 3-0 lead in a disastrous first period for Washington.

“Carolina [was] the only team that has held the lead through the first period twice on us this season, so we were conscious that they’re a team that comes out flying,” Brooks Laich said. “They are a team that wants to start out well, and we weren’t able to handle it.”

Tuomo Ruutu banged home a rebound at 7:44 with one second remaining on a two-minute, two-man advantage for the Hurricanes.

Staal was left alone at the right post for an easy layup at 10:14, and Jussi Jokinen pushed the lead to three goals at 14:30. The Hurricanes finished the period with three goals, while the Caps mustered only four shots on net.

Mike Green put Washington on the board early in the second. With the Caps on the power play, Green’s shot from the top of the zone squeezed past a screen provided by Mike Knuble at 1:14.

The Hurricanes quickly reclaimed the momentum when Brandon Sutter slipped a rebound through Jose Theodore’s legs at 3:32. Theodore made his first start in 10 days, and Sutter’s goal was the fourth he yielded on Carolina’s 16th shot.

“I thought his rebound control could have been better,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I thought he was going to be a little bit defiant [after the layoff], but I think he really wanted it and he fought the puck.”

A few minutes after Sutter’s goal, the home crowd gave Theodore a mock cheer when he steered a Carolina dump-in to a defenseman.

Eric Fehr was credited with a wacky goal that cut the deficit to 4-2 at 12:56 of the middle period. Fehr’s shot deflected off Andrew Alberts and trickled through a tangled mass of bodies before dribbling between goalie Cam Ward’s legs without him ever seeing it.

Alex Ovechkin cut Carolina’s lead to 4-3 just 82 seconds into the third period.

Sergei Samsonov restored the two-goal advantage midway through the period. His first shot was blocked by Tyler Sloan, but Theodore went down as he slid across his crease and couldn’t recover when Samsonov made a maneuver past Sloan and roofed the rebound.

The loss snaps a three-game winning streak for the Caps. It came only hours after the team traded captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus for left wing Jason Chimera - something players found out when they arrived at the arena.

“It is hard situation for us,” Ovechkin said. “We lost our captain and two great guys. Both guys were good players, but it’s a business, and we can’t do anything about it.”