Constant trips to penalty box doom Caps

PHILADELPHIA | Cross checking, hooking, high-sticking, holding - these are the terms the Washington Capitals have had enough of already in this young season.

The Caps were whistled for nine minor penalties Tuesday night, including six in the second period, before Danny Briere put home a rebound in overtime to give the Philadelphia Flyers a wild 6-5 victory at Wachovia Center. The loss prevented the Caps from posting a 3-0 start.

“If you take [nine] minors in a game, then you are not going to win a game,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Six in one period - that’s how four goals get scored against you. It is just not acceptable.”

Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin each had a pair of goals for the Caps. Mike Richards had a hat trick for the Flyers, who improved to 3-0.

Despite all the penalty trouble, Washington had a 5-4 lead late in the third period thanks to a goal that went in off Brendan Morrison’s skate. But with Boyd Gordon in the box for holding, Tom Poti tried to clear the puck out of danger, but it went off goaltender Jose Theodore, who had replaced starter Semyon Varlamov. The puck squirted across the goal line with 4:15 left in regulation, the tally credited to Scott Hartnell to make it 5-5.

“The way this game was going, I didn’t really know, but I thought there was a chance [it was the winner],” Morrison said. “We can’t stay out of the box. That was our issue tonight, and it caught up to us.”

After a scoreless first period, the goals and penalties came at a furious pace in the middle stanza. Mike Green, Semin, John Erskine (twice), Milan Jurcina and Brooks Laich all were sent to the box, and Richards capitalized with a pair of power-play markers.

His third goal set off a hat-tossing celebration and signaled the end of Varlamov’s night. The rookie goaltender has allowed seven goals on 31 shots since looking great for two periods against Toronto on Saturday.

Flurries of goals might be becoming an issue for Varlamov. Dating to Game 7 of the Penguins series in last year’s playoffs, the 21-year-old Russian has yielded three goals in a period five of the past six times he has put on a Washington uniform.

“[Varlamov] has got to be mentally tougher to play,” Boudreau said. “The one thing that has reared its ugly head right now is they score in bunches on him. … I think he can get down on himself, and I don’t know the answer because I haven’t talked to him yet, but I think he gets down on himself, and we’ve got to get him out of that.”

Richards put the Flyers in front with an extra-man goal after a nifty slap pass from Matt Carle. Ovechkin answered with his fourth of the season while on a two-on-one with Matt Bradley at 2:44 - just 67 seconds after Philadelphia went ahead.

Exactly three minutes after Kimmo Timonen had put the Flyers back in front, Ovechkin knocked down an outlet pass by defenseman Chris Pronger and then received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom before flipping a backhander past goalie Ray Emery at 7:33.

It was Ovechkin’s fifth goal in three games. He didn’t score that many until Washington’s 16th contest last season. Ovechkin, who added an assist on Semin’s second goal, has nine points in three games.

Semin gave the Caps their first lead with an early goal of the year candidate. He slipped past Philadelphia’s Braydon Coburn with a slick toe drag and then put a shot off the inside of Emery’s left leg to make it 3-2.

Then Richards registered a pair of goals on the same shift. The first came at 13:49 after another diagonal pass from Carle, and the second arrived 18 seconds later after Varlamov couldn’t squeeze Carle’s floater from the left point. Theodore replaced Varlamov at that point and helped stabilize the Caps, making 14 saves in relief.

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