- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

MONTREAL — The Capitals’ NHL-worst season reached its midway point in typical fashion as the Montreal Canadiens extended Washington’s winless streak to six games with a 4-1 victory last night at Bell Centre.

The Caps (11-25-4-1) have scored just eight goals — one by healthy offensive threats Robert Lang and Jaromir Jagr — during the 0-5-1 skid over the past nine days. Washington also sank to 2-11-2 against teams from the Northeast Division, 0-8-1 on the road.

“Fatigue did finally creep in,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “Our top players have played so many minutes.”

Jagr, who played 24:44, 4:05 over his average, agreed.

“Four games in five nights is tough,” Jagr said. “We were in the game for two periods like we were last night [a 5-2 loss in Ottawa that was 2-2 after 40 minutes], but again we didn’t have any legs in the third period.”

With the Caps minus injured forwards Peter Bondra, Dainius Zubrus and Michael Nylander, foes can focus on shutting down the Lang-Jagr-Kip Miller line and Washington’s second-ranked power play. If neither clicks, the Caps are in serious trouble.

“I don’t want to say that we’re defenseless, but we do become an easy team to check, especially on the road [when we don’t have the last line change],” Hanlon said.

On the other end of the ice, Hanlon tried the same strategy that predecessor Bruce Cassidy did when the Caps were last in Montreal on Oct.15. He put an inexperienced Quebec native between the pipes. Rookie Maxime Ouellet, who grew up 2 hours from here in Beaufort, played better than Sebastien Charpentier had three months ago, but still got the loss while making 30 saves in his sixth career game.

“I grew up watching the Canadiens so it was nice to play here, but the result is obviously disappointing,” said Ouellet, whose parents, sister and girlfriend saw him play in the NHL for the first time.

Joel Kwiatkowski scored Washington’s only goal, his second in three nights after he had just one in 108 previous career games.

Washington, trailing just 2-1, was on a power play early in the third period when Jason Ward forced a turnover at center ice and sent a pass ahead to Joe Juneau. The ex-Cap fended off Kwiatkowski’s furious checking and slid a shorthanded goal between Ouellet’s legs at 2:51. Michael Ryder gave himself a two-goal, three-point night as he got away from Trent Whitfield and beat the screened Ouellet at 10:32.

Montreal’s Michael Komisarek cross-checked Jeff Halpern to the ice in front of the net at 4:48 of the first period. However, the Caps didn’t put a shot on red-hot goalie Jose Theodore (seven goals allowed in his last six starts) during the advantage not counting Miller’s drive from the right point that rang off the left post.

Washington’s penalty-killing unit skated off Darcy Verot’s interference call at 9:19. However, not long after the teams returned to even strength, Montreal captain Saku Koivu won a faceoff with Halpern in the left circle of the Washington zone. Ryder jumped on the loose puck, skated between the circles and beat Ouellet with a blast for a 1-0 Canadiens lead at 12:32.

Then as a penalty to Montreal’s Sheldon Souray for roughing was expiring at 16:07, Mike Grier passed from the left circle to Kwiatkowski just inside the blue line. With Brian Sutherby lurking down low, the defenseman one-timed a high hard shot that eluded Theodore and found the right side of the net. It was an even-strength goal, giving Washington its second straight shot-less power play.

After Jagr, Kwiatkowski and Brendan Witt were all thwarted by Theodore in the first 11:43 of the second period, Witt went off for holding Mike Ribeiro. The Canadiens took only one shot during their power play, but they made it count. Ribeiro passed from behind the net along the left boards to Ryder, who kept the play going to Souray for the long shot that rocketed past Ouellet’s glove for a 2-1 Montreal edge at 13:31. When the score remained the same as the period expired, the Caps, 0-13-2 when trailing after 40 minutes, were done.

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