OTTAWA The Washington Capitals lost a hockey game last night, but how much more remains to be seen.
The Caps took the league-leading Ottawa Senators into the third period tied but could not match the home team’s three late goals and lost 5-2, leaving the Caps with two straight losses in regulation plus another in overtime.
Washington played the third period without leading scorer Jaromir Jagr, who left late in the second with a groin strain. The star right wing has been bothered with groin problems throughout his career.
General manager George McPhee said Jagr, who has 23 goals and 48 points and has been on fire lately, was “day-to-day.” The Caps play next tomorrow afternoon against the Bruins in Boston.
“He hurt his leg. I don’t even know what it was, [but] he said he couldn’t go,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Whether Jagr could have made the difference is debatable. Ottawa, which has scored more goals than any other team in the league, broke through on a well-executed play six minutes into the third period to snap a 2-2 tie, and Washington was unable to match it.
“We were awful the first time we played them [a 6-2 loss Nov. 29], and we’ve come a long way,” said Cassidy, an Ottawa native. “Our team is a much better team, we’re a first-place team I’m just trying to remind our guys we are a first-place team [atop the Southeast Division]. [The Senators] turned it up a notch in the third, and sometimes we play like we don’t want the puck, we’re not confident.
“I don’t know why that is. We have played a lot better lately maybe fatigue caught up to us [the Caps played Friday night], but still we were in a position to get a point out of this game if we just beared down. I just hate to see that slip away.”
Michael Nylander gave the Caps the lead barely four minutes in. On a power play, he shot from the base of the left circle, and the puck found paydirt almost as if by radar. The backhand shot climbed up Patrick Lalime’s left arm, glanced off the right post and hit the back of the net. It was Nylander’s 12th of the season.
The goal brought to an end Lalime’s Ottawa club record shutout string of 184 minutes, 4 seconds.
The Senators tied the game at 12:57 when Radek Bonk’s shot ricocheted into the cage off Brendan Witt’s right skate past Sebastien Charpentier, who was giving starter Olie Kolzig the night off. They went ahead six minutes later when the Caps were unable to clear despite ample opportunity. Daniel Alfredsson finally let loose with a perfect shot high into the net.
Washington tied it after the officials reversed themselves. Robert Lang let a wrister go from 20 feet, and it found the hole between Lalime’s legs, glancing off his left pad and into the net. As it was crossing the goal line, Lang’s forward motion carried him into the goalie, and the resulting collision dislodged the net.
The officials immediately waved off the goal, but players convinced the referees to check the video. Wise move. Less than a minute later, Lang had his goal.
It wasn’t enough though. Martin Havlat, coming down the left side with Bonk on the right, tipped the puck through Charpentier’s legs six minutes into the third, and Alfredsson added his second of the game, a 50-foot end-over-end wrist shot that found the upper left corner. Bonk added an empty-netter.
“We didn’t match them in the third,” the Caps’ Steve Konowalchuk said. “We were right where we wanted to be after two maybe in the third we gave them too much respect. Maybe we should have been jumping on them, thinking here we are 2-2 in the third period in their building. But they came out flying, and we didn’t match them.”