- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

The Washington Capitals played one of their best games and made very few mistakes last night. Unfortunately for the struggling team, it only took two mistakes to defeat them.

Roberto Luongo turned aside all but one of the 39 shots Washington fired at him, leading his Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the slumping Caps at MCI Center.

Washington is now winless in the second half of the season and riding a three-game losing streak. The win went to Panthers coach Mike Keenan, now 8-7-1 since taking over his latest reclamation project in early December.

Luongo was at his best under pressure, and the Caps piled it on at times. Washington's power play, second best in the league, was unable to convert against the big goalie, who received solid support from his teammates.

"It's tough to play that well and not get anything out of it," said coach Ron Wilson. "The two goals they had were very, very elementary breakdowns by people who shouldn't make those breakdowns. It's not your third or fourth line, it's been the last three games where some of the top people are not getting the job done defensively when it matters most, the beginning of periods for example."

The same five Washington skaters were on the ice for both Florida goals defensemen Joe Reekie and Sergei Gonchar and forwards Dmitri Khristich, Adam Oates and Jaromir Jagr, all very experienced players.

Washington had more than a half-dozen quality chances against Luongo in the first period alone, not to mention a 16-4 shooting advantage, but got only one shot past him. Oates recorded his seventh goal of the season four minutes into the game, backhanding the rebound of a Jagr shot into the unguarded side of the net.

But all that did was tie the score, four minutes after the first puck was dropped. Sixty-six seconds after the start, one Caps defender didn't box his man out and that man passed to right wing Ivan Novoseltsev, who had been ignored by the Cap supposedly defending him. Craig Billington had a close-up view of the wing easily putting the puck into a gaping hole.

Washington played mostly a very responsible defensive game in the second period, with one notable exception. Again, very early in a period, Washington allowed a preventable score.

With five veterans on the ice, the Caps nonetheless chose to ignore one of the more dangerous goal-scorers in the game, Pavel Bure. With four of the five Washington skaters on the right side of the rink covering three Florida players, Bure cruised unnoticed by the Caps, that is down the left side of the slot, placed the blade of his stick on the ice and calmly redirected the crossing pass from Jason Wiemer and the Panthers had a 2-1 lead.

"The only disappointing part of our game was the overall play of our power play," Wilson said. "We didn't generate as many chances and maybe it has to do with their penalty kill. It was aggressive and we didn't move the puck quickly or intelligently enough to generate the type of chances we need. A lot of our offense comes from our power play; Luongo made a couple nice saves and there were a few breakaways he had to face as well."

Washington had an excellent opportunity to record its first shorthanded goal of the season (it has allowed four) when penalty-killer Andrei Nikolishin intercepted a pass and broke in alone 12 minutes into the second period. But Luongo made an even better move, poke-checking the puck off the end of Nikolishin's stick to end the threat.

Midway through the third the Caps had another shorthanded chance, this time Peter Bondra breaking in. Again Luongo was up to the task, holding his ground and forcing the sniper to shoot into the goalie's midsection.

Meanwhile, the Caps played every available healthy body last night, all 20 of them. Center-wing Glen Metropolit had been re-assigned to the minors earlier in the day, leaving defenseman Brendan Witt (sprained right thumb) and wing Ulf Dahlen (bruised foot) as the short-term medical scratches.

The Caps may bring some players up from Portland, Maine, today. The Pirates had played three games in three days over the weekend, leaving them unavailable for any Caps duties last night.

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