- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

For two periods last night the Washington Capitals played a near flawless game, executing like seasoned veterans in midseason form. It was a performance designed to convince someone to buy tickets and it would have been a great gimmick if they hadn’t played the third period.

Philadelphia overcame a four-goal deficit then came from behind again in the closing seconds of regulation to earn a deadlock in a penalty-filled contest that finally was decided in the first shootout in Caps history that meant something.

Stefan Ruzicka, the fourth shooter for the Flyers and first in the sudden-death portion, fired a shot that Olie Kolzig let trickle through his pads and Philadelphia took a 7-6 victory in a game that lasted nearly three hours.

The loss spoiled what had been a tremendous Washington performance for two periods, with veteran Jeff Halpern recording a hat trick and stellar rookie Alexander Ovechkin having a hand in four of the six Caps goals. He has had something to do with eight of Washington’s last 10 scores.

It also taught the young club something that the Capitals failed to learn during the 2003-04 season: NHL games last at least 60 minutes, not 40.

The Caps were cruising along with a 5-1 lead entering the third period when the game turned. In six minutes, Philadelphia scored four goals and Jonathan Sim sent the game into overtime with his third of the game with just 17 seconds left.

Washington had its chances in the five-minute overtime period but could not do anything with goalie Antero Niittymaki, who replaced porous starter Robert Esche in the second period.

Jeff Friesen, Ovechkin, Brian Willsie and Andrew Cassels took part in the shootout for Washington but all were stopped. Kolzig stopped the first three Flyers shooters and appeared to have stopped the fourth until it trickled through his legs.

Earlier the Caps had been putting on a clinic against a team that has given the them fits for more than 30 years.

The impressive thing about the Caps thus far — at least for the first two periods — has been the club’s ability to move the puck, crisply, quickly and efficiently. It was something that wasn’t there during a dreadful 6-0 pounding Washington absorbed Sept.16 against Carolina, but it has improved with each game. Against Pittsburgh on Friday night and against the Flyers last night, the Caps were machine-like in moving the puck around and blindly passing to spots where teammates should have been — and were.

With the precision puck movement and vastly improved passing has come better execution especially on the power play, something that was just wishful thinking during the Jaromir Jagr era. When Washington players shoot the puck now with a man advantage, teammates move into spots where a rebound logically would be directed.

Kolzig, for his part, was his team’s best penalty-killer, at least for the first two periods when Philadelphia misfired on six of seven chances. He was acrobatic and fluid and also received help from teammates in keeping the crease clear. When the skaters broke down in the third period, Kolzig’s effectiveness suffered.

Notes — The Caps close the exhibition season tonight at Pittsburgh. The Penguins had planned to go with the lineup they hope to open the season with, including Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, etc. Ovechkin will have the night off, meaning the matchup between the No.1 overall selections from the last two drafts will have to wait. Newly arrived right wing Petr Sykora is scheduled to play his first game as a Cap. He will wear No.20, a number worn for years by another Czech, Michal Pivonka. Jeff Friesen made his Caps debut last night and accounted for all three penalties against Washington in the first period.

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