- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Usually, the Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry is intense enough. But last night’s game at MCI Center had even more intrigue — a revenge motive, the presence of a sellout crowd and a matchup between the two leading candidates for rookie of the year.

However, the Capitals were unable to make it much of a game as the Penguins scored four times in the second period of a 6-3 victory. In three meetings this season, Pittsburgh has outscored Washington 19-8. The Caps have been outscored outscored 21-7 in their last four games and won just two of its last 10 games.

Last night, Washington went 0-for-5 on the power play and allowed four goals in 11 short-handed situations. In front of a large following of their fans, the visiting Penguins punished Washington goalie Olie Kolzig hours after he signed a two-year contract extension worth nearly $11 million. Pittsburgh took advantage of many of the little openings the Caps offered and prevented the veteran goalie from winning his 250th NHL game.

After Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby scored his 28th goal of the season in the first period, John LeClair scored 1:11 into the second for a 2-0 lead. The Penguins also led 5-0 and 6-1 before the Caps made it respectable.

“I think just about everything they shot at the net went in and that was the problem,” Kolzig said. “They took the wind out of our sails, when they scored that goal after we dominated the first period.”

The game turned on special teams and defensive lapses by the Caps. Kolzig was not at his sharpest, making 23 saves on 29 shots.

For instance, Pittsburgh scored with 1:35 left in the first period on a power play when Crosby reached in and tapped a rolling puck into Kolzig’s cage. LeClair, Sergei Gonchar and Colby Armstrong scored in the first eight minutes of the second period and Pittsburgh still had three two-man advantages coming its way.

“We lost [in the] second period,” said left wing Alex Ovechkin, who is battling for the Calder Trophy with Crosby. “We play very well in first period but we can’t score. First period, we have great chances [to score] but guys don’t score. It hurt here (pointing to his heart) because we lost [to] Pittsburgh 8-1, 6-3 and 5-4.”

Pittsburgh entered the game with the worst record in the league entering the game and has yet to win three consecutive this season.

“We’d like to ride this [streak] as long as we can,” said Crosby, referring to a modest two-game winning streak. “It comes at a good and a bad time because now we break for the Olympics. They came out really hard in the first period, but we weathered the storm. We were lucky to come out with the lead and we regrouped between periods.”

Ovechkin scored a goal, his 36th of the season, in the teams’ first meeting since since Ovechkin was speared in the groin by Ryan Whitney on Jan. 25. Whitney was fined $1,500 by the league but not suspended.

Matt Pettinger and Brian Sutherby also scored for the Caps, but the Penguins already had gained control of the game.

“Special teams were the key,” said Gonchar, a former All-Star with Washington. “We scored on the power play and Washington didn’t. That was the difference.”

Notes — Center Jeff Halpern returned last night but three others remain out with injuries: right wings Matt Bradley (foot) and Chris Clark (groin) and defenseman Steve Eminger (sprained ankle). Center Dave Steckel was returned to Hershey to make room for Halpern coming off injured reserve. … Doug Doull, up for a tryout as a possible enforcer, went against Andre Roy in the first period and didn’t do badly. He took on experienced Eric Cairns in the second period, a mistake. … The crowd was announced as a sellout (18,277) and was larger than usual but a few thousand stayed home on a snowy night.

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