- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

Christmas came early for the New York Islanders at MCI Center last night.

The Washington Capitals will remember the 5-4 loss for a long time. They had a two-goal lead over a team that hadn’t beaten them at home since March2, 1997 — and collapsed.

The Islanders scored four straight times, wiping out a 3-1 deficit, then held off a late Caps’ charge to earn the victory, an entertaining game for the fans but a nightmare for the Washington players.

The Caps led 3-1 more than 17 minutes into the second period when the roof fell in. Washington took a pair of penalties and the Islanders, almost total failures on the power play away from home, converted both ends.

That was just the start. Alexei Yashin, the Islanders’ $10million albatross of a center, scored on what appeared to be a stoppable shot from the top of the left circle 69 seconds into the final period and the wheels were off the cart. Mariusz Czerkawski put the eventual game-winner into the upper left corner with 6:10 remaining.

Between the Caps’ third goal and the Islanders’ fifth, Washington was outshot 23-5 and generally outplayed.

“Our start was a little slow and I could sense it,” said coach Glen Hanlon, whose record fell to 2-2-2 since taking over. “We just didn’t have that real pursuit that we’ve had for the first five games.”

There were two different Caps teams on the ice last night: the slower, plodding club that started and finished the game and the aggressive, fast-paced group that took the lead.

“There is a process in learning how to win,” Hanlon said. “The good teams have it and the good people have it. To pursue pucks takes a lot of energy and takes really enjoying playing with your teammates. Once you don’t have that in one player, it becomes a bit of a breakdown. Tonight it was evident watching from my viewpoint, that was the only thing I was disappointed in, the actual ability to pursue pucks.”

“Unfortunately our penalty-killers didn’t kill those two penalties,” said Sergei Gonchar. “Obviously it gave them energy going into the third period and in my opinion, it was right there, that’s where we lost the game.”

The first period was reminiscent of a lot of earlier Caps first periods this season with the team playing like it had just awoken from a long siesta. Washington was sloppy in every phase of the game, being outshot 16-8 and receiving a whole lot of help on its only goal.

Justin Papineau opened the scoring 3:17 into the first, first eluding defenseman Rick Berry then lifting a backhander into the top right corner for his first of the season.

Washington tied the game at 14:30 on a power play when Robert Lang tried to pass from the left to the right side of the cage for an open shot for Jaromir Jagr, but the puck was deflected into the next by a defenseman. It was Lang’s 18th goal of the season and he got his 19th in the last 75 seconds of play when his shot bounced off two Islanders and found the net.

New York converted two power plays on goals by Mark Parrish and Kenny Jonsson inside the last three minutes of the second period. Goals by Brian Willsie and Kip Miller gave Washington a 3-1 lead earlier in the second.

“We took a couple penalties and they have skill players and they scored goals,” said Peter Bondra. “Still, the game was on at that point but I believe that early goal in the third got us a little bit down. Obviously, we’re disappointed, we should have had a better result. Maybe [we should] play smarter.”

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