- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

PHILADELPHIA The Washington Capitals hadn't lost in six games. They had lost just four times in their past 29 games and just twice in 23 games they had led after the first period.

All those positive statistics didn't matter Thursday night as the Southeast Division leaders failed to hold an early one-goal edge and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 at First Union Center.

Flyers enforcer Gino Odjick's goal 2:45 into the third period was the difference. Valeri Zelepukin's terrific head-man pass sent Odjick racing into the Washington zone. Despite Terry Yake's furious stick-checking, Odjick skated in and squirted the puck past Olie Kolzig. The goal was just Odjick's 57th in 632 career games.

Washington's best chance to tie the game came with less than nine minutes left on a power-play drive by captain Adam Oates and the rebound by Andrei Nikolishin. However, Philadelphia rookie goalie Brian Boucher made both stops. And when penalties on defensemen Dmitri Mironov and Brendan Witt left the Caps two men short, Flyers captain Eric Lindros blasted a shot past Kolzig's glove.

The Caps (35-22-11), who have lost all six of their games in Philadelphia since Jan. 31, 1998, return to action Saturday at MCI Center against Eastern Conference leader New Jersey. The Devils have 89 points to the Caps' 82. The Flyers have 85 but trail the Caps in the standings because they're not a division leader.

"We took ourselves out [of the game] by taking dumb penalties. It's that siimple," said clearly frustrated Caps coach Ron Wilson.

Three of the penalties were whistled on 37-year-old fourth-line center Mike Eagles.

"In my mind they were marginal calls, especially the third one," Eagles said. "But I still take the responsiblity."

Philadelphia outshot Washington 33-18, raising the Caps' deficit in that department to a staggering 146-82 during the past four games. And yet the Caps almost led heading into the third period, a circumstance after which they've lost just once this season.

The Caps played the majority of the sluggish first period in their own end, but as has been the norm lately, struck first. Oates set up the goal with a feed from the left circle to Ulf Dahlen behind the net. Dahlen then zipped the puck into the goal mouth to Chris Simon, who slid it low past Boucher's glove at 13:20 of the first period. The goal was Simon's team-high 23rd (in his 300th NHL game) and extended Oates' team leads to 40 assists and 53 points.

Washington, already missing defenseman Sergei Gonchar and forwards Richard Zednick, Jan Bulis and James Black with injuries, played most of the game without rookie center Jeff Halpern, who suffered back spasms when checked into the boards by Philadelphia defenseman Eric Desjardins early in the first period.

Halpern's absence meant double duty for Yake and made Wilson's decision to scratch seventh defenseman Nolan Baumgartner and dress Eagles look smart. That is until Eagles, playing for just the second time in the past 24 games, left the Caps shorthanded twice in the first 23 minutes.

When Eagles did so for a third time with a holding penalty with 3:25 left in the second period, Rick Tocchet (reacquired Wednesday after an eight-year absence) finally solved Kolzig. The All-Star goalie had just thwarted Lindros and John LeClair at even strength, but he lost his shot at a second straight shutout of the Flyers during the Eagles-generated power play.

Daymond Langkow passed from the right circle to Zelepukin behind the net. Zelepukin threw the puck out front, and Tocchet jammed it past Kolzig with 2:44 to go in the period to make it 1-1. Peter Bondra had Boucher helpless less than a minute later but shot wide.

Note Saturday night's pregame ceremony to honor former Caps captain Dale Hunter will begin at 6:58 p.m. The Caps ask fans attending the sold-out game to be prompt.

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