- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Different arena, same result.

Mark Recchi had three points and John LeClair two as the Philadelphia Flyers pounded the Washington Capitals 5-1 last night at Wachovia Center. Ten days earlier, LeClair and Recchi scored four points apiece in Philadelphia’s 4-1 victory at MCI Center.

With Antero Niittymaki making his NHL debut in the Philadelphia net because of the ailments of Robert Esche and Jeff Hackett and Washington having gone 6-4-1-1 in its previous 12 games, the Caps seemed primed to end a 12-game winless streak here that dated to March5, 1998.

However, the lowly Caps (17-31-5-2) tested the 23-year-old Finn only 20 times, while the powerful Flyers peppered veteran goalie Olie Kolzig with 40 shots, LeClair, Recchi, Simon Gagne and Kim Johnsson beating him. Keith Primeau’s goal was an empty-netter.

“We wanted to get as many pucks on [Niittymaki] as we could, but knowing that it was his first start, they really buckled down and tried to keep us to the outside,” Caps right wing Mike Grier said. “They blocked some shots and made it tough on us.”

Washington heads into the All-Star break 2-2 in its last four games despite being outshot 154-68. The Caps fell to 2-9 against the Flyers the last three seasons and have been outscored by the Eastern Conference leaders 12-4 in losing all three games this year.

“Too big, too strong,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “That’s a strong hockey club. They just keep coming at you. I don’t think we passed up many opportunities; I just don’t think we had enough. If you’re not up to the task, it’s a hard night.”

After resting in favor of rookie Maxime Oullet against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, Kolzig stopped all 10 shots he faced in the first 13:05. At 14:09, however, Primeau bulled into the Washington zone and passed the puck through the legs of defenseman Jason Doig to Gagne, who lifted it over Kolzig’s right leg and into the net.

Philadelphia’s Jeremy Roenick went off for holding 41 seconds later, but Washington’s power play continued to struggle. The Caps, who managed one weak shot by All-Star center Robert Lang during their two minutes with the extra skater, are just 3-for-23 since Jaromir Jagr was traded and Sergei Gonchar was hurt on Jan.23. In fact, Gagne’s high shot on a short-handed breakaway was the best scoring chance during the power play.

“Obviously, our power play isn’t clicking,” center Jeff Halpern said.

The Caps were outshot 17-6 in the first period and went to the dressing room trailing after 20 minutes for the 21st time. They’re 1-17-3 when that happens.

At 2:54 of the second period, Niittymaki slid to the right post and butterflied to thwart Lang, who had jumped on a turnover by Chris Therien deep in the Philadelphia zone. The rookie snatched ex-Flyer Dainius Zubrus’ right circle slap shot out of the air at 11:55 as the Caps began to generate some offense.

At 13:32, they finally solved Niittymaki. Halpern, skating across the slot, collided with Patrick Sharp and went down but not before sending the puck goalward. Lang, at the left post, redirected it into the net for his 26th goal and 64th point.

The tie lasted just 86 seconds as Michal Handzus and Recchi set up LeClair, who fended off Josef Boumedienne’s furious checking, and backhanded the puck past Kolzig.

“Olie was unreal in the first period,” Grier said. “He battled and battled, but we let him down a little bit. We should have gone to the third with the game tied, but we gave up a goal that we shouldn’t have given up and that was a big turning point.”

After blunting seven straight short-handed situations the last two nights, the Caps’ penalty-killers finally faltered at 3:49 of the third period as Johnsson’s shot from the blue line trickled off Kolzig and into the net. And when penalties on Halpern and Boumedienne left the Caps two men down, Recchi beat Kolzig from the left circle at 9:38.

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