- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

This was a New Jersey team ready to be plucked. It was winless in its last four games, having problems scoring and playing uncharacteristic defense that had it ranked ninth in the Eastern Conference. It had been without All-Star goalie Martin Brodeur since Oct. 26, and he had a balloon-like — for him — goals-against average of 3.61.

But the Washington Capitals squandered a chance at a victory yesterday afternoon. For whatever reason, they did not play like the respectable Caps of late until they were three goals down on their way to a 4-3 defeat at MCI Center.

The same teams meet this afternoon at New Jersey.

Washington goalie Olie Kolzig was out with a pulled hamstring in his right leg and was replaced by Frederic Cassivi, just called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League. There were moments when Cassivi kept his team in the game and moments when his team let him down. It was far from the 60-minute efforts the club recently has put on display, win or lose.

“I didn’t think we did a good job on a lot of things we had to do — getting on pucks, causing turnovers,” said center Jeff Halpern, who got his first goal of the season off a late turnover by the Devils. “They made a good adjustment along the boards that made it easier for them to come up on us, and that was because we weren’t getting up ice as a group.

“We dug ourselves a hole, and we weren’t able to get out of it.”

Still, it was a game that appeared to be there for the taking. The Devils, who made it to 7-7-2 with the win, played a tentative game, but they were quick to jump on Washington errors. And there were more than a few of them.

The first came 13 minutes into a scoreless game when defenseman Ivan Majesky, playing his first game with the Caps, went to pass the puck out of the zone. The attempt was weak and easily intercepted, and Grant Marshall buried it behind Cassivi with a few quick steps.

Matt Bradley tied the game when his soft shot from the left side got through Brodeur, playing for the first time since spraining a knee more than two weeks ago. But 41 seconds after he scored, rookie Zach Parise drilled a one-timer from the left circle over Cassivi’s left shoulder, and the Caps couldn’t catch up. Scott Gomez scored the winner eight minutes into the third on another soft-shot goal.

The Caps made a run that began when Halpern scored 44 seconds after Gomez. The Caps’ captain picked off a turnover, deked once and slipped the puck under Brodeur.

Less than two minutes later, Alex Ovechkin made it a one-goal game with his best shot of the night. He took a pass from Brian Willsie and ripped the puck into the top right corner, an unstoppable drive and Ovechkin’s 13th of his stellar rookie season.

But Washington got no closer. The Devils were able to force Washington to the outside and choke off attempts to get close to Brodeur. They weren’t the dominating Devils of old, but they were good enough.

“We definitely had time to get that fourth goal,” Halpern said. “You know, it’s a 60-minute game for a reason, and we can’t continue to have those lapses, whether it’s for five minutes or a couple plays. Even when you’re not playing as well as you should, it’s the mental breakdowns that are costing us.

“Going into the Toronto game we had a chance to get closer to .500. Now to get us back into the same hole we were in before the Philly game. It’s not something we’re happy about.”

Washington dropped four games below .500 at 4-8-0 after losing 8-1 to Philadelphia on Nov. 3, and yesterday they fell to 6-10-0.

Notes — Center Andrew Cassels (for the fourth consecutive game) and defenseman Mathieu Biron were the healthy scratches. … Left wing Jeff Friesen (groin), a former Devil, was put on injured reserve yesterday. He has only one goal in 14 games. … It was the first game Kolzig has missed this season. Also out with injuries were defenseman Nolan Yonkman (hip pointer) and right wing Stephen Peat (broken hand). … The Caps used Veterans Day to announce Operation Gratitude, a program in which active and retired military and their families can purchase tickets at discounts.

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