- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Until March 25, the Washington Capitals had gone 18 games allowing the opposition three or fewer goals. Their record over that span was 13-3-2.

During the last four games, however, Washington has allowed three of four opponents four goals each and the result has been predictable: The Caps have won only once.

Washington was drubbed soundly last night losing to Ottawa 4-0 at Corel Centre in Kanata, Ontario, its first defeat by the Senators in four games this season. The high point of the game for Washington was holding the Senators scoreless during the first period. Meanwhile, Ottawa for a long time threatened to hold the lifeless Caps without a shot.

Washington thus lost ground in its drive to be No. 1 in the Eastern Conference. Instead of pulling even with New Jersey for the top spot, the Caps made up the game-in-hand they owned over the Devils and gained no ground. Each team has played 80 games with two remaining. The Caps still trail New Jersey in points, 101-99, and in wins, 44-43.

In the Southeast Division, Washington has not clinched by any measure. Runner-up Florida now has a game-in-hand over Washington but trails by four points. The Caps have to win both of their remaining games at Detroit on Friday, no picnic, and home Sunday against desperate Buffalo and hope Florida stumbles along the way.

In other words, after several weeks of daydreaming about No. 1, the Caps have run into a slump at the worst possible time. Before the week is over, Washington not only could miss out on the conference title and the division championship but also home ice advantage for the first round, which seemed a sure thing only 10 days ago.

"I don't know if we understand the urgency," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "Basically, we're giving up home ice here. Our defense was awful. Some guys just don't get it. They didn't show up tonight."

Olie Kolzig was given a rest after posting his 40th win of the season Monday, 4-1 over the New York Rangers. Backup Craig Billington went in to get a little work but got a lot more than he bargained for. The Senators had more shots on goal after two periods, 21, that the Caps had in the entire game, 19.

Rookie left wing Petr Schastlivy got the game-winner with his first NHL score midway through the second, Daniel Alfredsson had two in his first game back from an injury and former Cap Joe Juneau wrapped it up.

Billington is now winless in his last seven starts (0-6-1). In his last four starts, the Caps have scored exactly four goals for him while exposing him to 10 goals by opponents.

Patrick Lalime, shoved into the Ottawa net at the last minute, had little work and took care of all of it. He is now 3-0-0 in his brief career against Washington, with a goals-against of 1.50 vs. the Caps. The shutout was his third of the season and seventh of his career.

Notes Tom Barrasso was a last-minute scratch for Ottawa because of a bruised left index finger sustained during warmups. X-rays were scheduled. The Caps were probably hoping Barrasso would stay in goal because they have owned the former Pittsburgh Penguin for the past few years. Lalime is also a former Pittsburgh player.

The switch last night continues a strange sequence. Lalime got his initial chance in the NHL because Barrasso was injured in Pittsburgh and the club needed a backup for Ken Wregget. When Wregget was injured, Lalime went in and at one point ran off a streak of 16 games in a row without a loss (14-0-2). He ended up in Ottawa as a free agent, and Barrasso arrived via a swap of players at the trading deadline March 14. At last report, the two didn't talk to each other, which is now they treated each other in Pittsburgh… .

Senators left wing Shawn McEachern has been out since March 25 when his left thumb was broken during a 4-3 loss to the Caps. He led the team in goals at the time with 29 and still does.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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