Sunday, October 23, 2005

Turn the clock back 48 hours. Alter the final score slightly. Change the name of the opponent. But the story remains the same. The season of embarrassment continues for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps stumbled into the penalty box last night, repeatedly, and handed what appeared to be a winnable game to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-0.

A few statistics, most of them familiar by now, tell the tale. For one, it was the fourth consecutive game in which the Caps have allowed at least 40 shots on goal — last night the Hurricanes outshot them 41-18. Amazingly, Washington won one of those games, beating Tampa Bay 3-2 in a shootout.

Washington, a team that has vowed — repeatedly — to stay out of the penalty box, took 13 penalties, which Carolina turned into three power-play goals.

Washington failed to score when it had a man-advantage, extending its streak to 405:55. The last time the Caps scored in that situation was in the first period of the season’s third game.

Rookie sensation Alex Ovechkin’s eight-game point streak came to an end as he tried to do too much himself and was shut down. He had six goals and four assists during his streak, the longest ever by a Cap to open his career.

“It doesn’t matter if I don’t score, we lose the game,” Ovechkin said. “If I score and we lose, it doesn’t matter.”

The victim of last night’s ambush was Olie Kolzig, who played a remarkable game — again — but proved that one man can’t do it all himself. He stopped everything that came his way until nearly the midway point of the second period when a power play score finally connected. By that point, he had already made 19 consecutive stops.

“It’s kind of a snowball effect,” he said after the game. “You get into penalty trouble, you tire the penalty-killers out, other guys don’t get regular shifts, it’s just a never-ending process. The first few kills we did a great job, then we just got tired. We allowed them too many easy chances … we just have to eliminate the penalties.”

Still, halfway through the game, the Caps trailed just 1-0. That came despite going more than 23 minutes during parts of the first and second periods with just two shots on goal, while Kolzig faced 23 during the same span.

Then Carolina got lucky, and that’s all it took. A passing attempt by Matt Cullen glanced off Brendan Witt’s right arm and into the net for a 2-0 lead. A two-goal deficit — at least right now — is too much for the Caps to overcome.

Notes — The game was delayed for about 17 minutes shortly after it started when some of the gear holding protective glass in place became dislodged. An MCI Center employee skated over to where the glass was obviously far more flexible than designed, examined it and skated away. Not so quick, said veteran referee Don Koharski, showing how a puck or stick could easily go through the opening. He held the game up until it was repaired to his satisfaction. … Ben Clymer had been scheduled to play his natural position last night, defense, but was a late scratch with a groin pull. That left Washington with no healthy scratches for the first time this season. … The Hurricanes took left wing Ray Whitney off injured reserve and he played in his first game of the season. … The Caps are off today, resting up for four consecutive road games.

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