- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

ATLANTA The Washington Capitals turned what appeared to be a victory and two quick points on the road into a very disappointing overtime deadlock last night, and they have only themselves to blame.

Atlanta, the worst team in the league and down 2-0 in the first period, rallied for a 3-3 overtime draw when Hnat Domenichelli scored with less than three minutes left in regulation.

That left the Caps a goal short in their surge back to respectability after spending more than a month fishing around the bottom of the barrel. They remain a game under .500 at 12-13-4 and three points behind Southeast Division leader Carolina.

To their credit, the lowly Thrashers continued to chip away at the Caps throughout the game, and the more they chipped, the more ground Washington surrendered. There were ample opportunities early in the contest to put it out of reach once and for all, but Washington passed in no small part due to a decent effort by Atlanta goalie Milan Hnilicka.

"We didn't finish them off in the first period when we should have and gave them far too much room," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "Some guys, for some reason I don't know why struggled tonight."

The Caps have a history of struggling against vastly inferior competition, and the third-year Thrashers are no exception. Including this season, Washington is just 3-3-1 in Philips Arena but is 5-0-1 against the Thrashers at home.

Caps players who did have good performances last night were Dmirti Khristich, who had two goals, and Dainius Zubrus, who had the other Washington score. Zubrus' two linemates, Peter Bondra and Andrei Nikolishin, each assisted on at least two of the three goals, with the unit having an outstanding overall game.

"It was not really a good game for us," said Nikolishin. "We got to respect this team more. They scored a poor goal at the end of the [first] period, and that gave them the chance to play against us. We got to be more patient on defense."

The unsatisfying tie came after the Caps throttled the New York Rangers 5-2 for their third win in a row.

"You've got to be prepared to do the same things," Wilson said. "If you play sound hockey in your own end, you score five or six goals against a team like the Rangers. You've got to come in and play exactly the same way against someone like Atlanta. And when you don't, you're not going to win."

Washington took an early 2-0 lead and had chances to put the game away. But the Thrashers refused to quit and took advantage of even the slightest chances. The result was that Washington felt pressed at every turn and could not relax.

The Caps opened the scoring 11 minutes into the first when Khristich buried a rebound of Bondra's shot, a goal that required little effort but one that might not have gone in a few weeks back, the way the right wing's luck was running. It was a power play score, giving the Caps goals with the extra attacker in eight straight games.

Khristich had a poor camp and didn't exhibit a great deal of energy during the early stages of the season and quickly earned a spot on the bench. It was only five games ago that Wilson wanted to see if the lesson of little-effort results in no ice time had sunk in on Khristich. It apparently had, because he has played well in four of those five games and recorded four goals in the process.

Zubrus made it 2-0 at 13:36 of the first on a play very similar to Khristich's scoring drive. Zubrus batted in a rebound in the same spot for his fourth goal in eight games after going scoreless in the team's opening 21.

Khristich put the Caps back on top 18 minutes into the second period when his backhand from the left side beat Hnilicka.

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