- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

This much was certain before the game: The stumbling, bumbling Washington Capitals would finish the first quarter of the season producing the fewest number of points in modern (since 1982-83) team history. Their 12 were three fewer than the previous low.

And that came on a night when Olie Kolzig played in his 500th NHL game, a milestone he will cherish down the road, but not last night. The Florida Panthers recovered from a poor first period to defeat the punchless Caps 3-2 in overtime at MCI Center on a goal by Stephen Weiss 1:43 into the extra period.

Weiss’ goal came after each side scored inside the last three minutes of regulation. Kristian Huselius broke a long-standing 1-1 deadlock with a Panthers goal at 17:07 of the third period. Robert Lang, the super-hot Caps center, tied it with exactly one minute left when he poked home a rebound of Jeff Halpern’s shot to extend his point streak to 11 games.

What the three late goals did was produce an exciting finish to an otherwise dull game of back-and-forth skating with little contact and little offense.

Kolzig had a good game — he had 22 saves — but not enough offensive support, as has been the case often this season. He now stands at 5-13-1 for the season and 220-198-55 for his career.

Washington (5-13-1-1) had ample opportunity to win — enough opportunities, in fact, to win more than one game. But the dark cloud that has hovered over many of Washington’s offensive players continued to hang there while the easiest of shots was shanked or simply muffed.

“This one hurts because we dominated the game,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “We should have won it 5-0. We played hard and deserved to win. … Their goalie [Roberto Luongo] won the game.”

Luongo, one of the bright young goaltending stars in the league, came back after he was driven out of the nets the previous night in Atlanta as the Thrashers won 6-3. Last night he stopped 22 of 23 shots in the first period and coasted from that point on, not facing that many shots again for the rest of the game. Luongo made brilliant stops in that first period on Halpern and Kip Miller to keep his team in the game. Had either gone in, Florida might not have come back.

The Caps scored first for just the fifth time this season and for a period appeared on track for an easy win. Washington outshot the Panthers 23-8, scored on its first power play and even enjoyed 31 seconds with a two-man advantage that produced no score.

Jaromir Jagr’s seventh of the season got things started just 3:04 into the game. It was a pretty play with four Caps drawing all the Florida defenders to the left side of the zone and leaving Jagr alone on the right. Sergei Gonchar fed him perfectly, and the right wing had no trouble beating Luongo.

But there were telltale signs, even in the first period, the Caps were more in a mood to showcase their Ice Follies passing techniques than basic hockey. There were blind passes to nonexistent receivers, passes to teammates covered by two or more Panthers, drop passes to players who weren’t there, shots into bodies that easily blocked them, shots with the speed of a rampaging turtle.

In the first period alone, Washington had 13 power play shots on Luongo, not including Jagr’s score, and none got through. Luongo is good, but the law of percentages dictate that one or more of those 13 have to get through.

Florida turned the tables in the second. Viktor Kozlov accepted a pass from Olli Jokinen and swept past Caps defender Joel Kwiatkowski with no more trouble than if he were a pylon at practice. Kolzig, now unguarded, tried to quickly shift from left to right across the crease but not in time.

Notes — The 23 shots the Caps had in the first period were three better than any other first period this season. In fact, the combined first-period shot totals of several games this season did not match last night’s first period. …

Washington had nine shots on a double minor to the Panthers early in the first period, which also might be a high for the season. They didn’t score, of course. … Last night was a far cry from the Caps-Panthers game at MCI last January, won by Washington 12-2. …

Florida is now 3-4 since Mike Keenan was fired as coach two weeks ago.

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