Thursday, January 5, 2006

The Ottawa Senators have been the model of efficiency this season, scoring the most goals in the league, allowing the fewest and running up the most points as the season’s halfway point approaches.

Like every team, injuries have hit. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Martin Havlat and Brandon Bochenski have missed time with injuries, and that represents more than a third of Ottawa’s offense.

Of course, there’s a reason the Senators have an NHL-best 59 points. They got goals last night from players like Chris Phillips, who hadn’t scored at all this season, Patrick Eaves and Peter Schaefer to push the Caps aside 3-1 at MCI Center.

It wasn’t the easy game the Senators might have expected, but the club — which has scored 164 goals and allowed only 89 — had more than enough left personnel-wise to overpower the Caps.

The task was made easier by the Caps, who showed again they have more trouble scoring with a two-man advantage than most teams do at even strength. Only this time, the Caps had four two-man advantages and failed to score on any of them, averaging just one shot on each.

“Five-on-threes are really hard now,” said Bryan Murray, the Ottawa coach who was behind the Washington bench for most of the 1980s. “We’ve had I don’t know how many 5-on-3s, and we haven’t scored many goals if we’ve scored any. I think it’s easier on the 5-on-4. But Washington was dangerous tonight, and they will be with [Alex] Ovechkin. Eventually they’re going to be very good in that area.”

Murray believes it is tougher to score when fewer defenders are on the ice because, for one thing, goalies are better in that department and act like one of the missing players.

“Everybody shrinks the box,” Murray said. “The [defensive] triangle is so tight now that everybody is blocking shots off the perimeter shots. And if you have a good goaltender, he just becomes that extra guy. And the guys are impatient trying to score, and they try to blast it through the goaltender. It seems to be anyway that the down low play doesn’t work any more.”

The shortest of the Caps’ four two-man advantages was 46 seconds, while the longest was 1:20. Washington didn’t even get a shot on one of the power plays.

“Our penalty killing was as good as it’s been in a long time,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said, with reason. Ottawa, owner of the second-best power play unit in the league, was a man up eight times and did not score once. In fact, the Caps may have been their sharpest during the night while they were at a disadvantage.

Matt Pettinger got the Caps’ goal on a redirect nearly 15 minutes into the third for his ninth of the season, but Ovechkin’s streak of at least one goal in six straight games ended.

“The good thing is the group here could’ve given up being down 2-0, but we didn’t,” defenseman Brendan Witt said. “We just kept going and gave ourselves a chance.”

Notes — With team captain Jeff Halpern out with an injury, the Caps used three alternate captains: Dainius Zubrus, Brian Sutherby and Witt. The Caps provided no new information on Halpern’s condition other than saying the injury does not appear serious and an MRI showed nothing unexpected. Still, no definitive date was given on when he might return. Halpern was injured in the first period Sunday, skated for one shift in the second and left for good. …

Jeff Friesen (groin), who missed his 24th consecutive game, also was a medical scratch. Center Andrew Cassels and defenseman Nolan Yonkman were the healthy scratches. … Washington plays host to Philadelphia tomorrow night, with the Flyers continuing their league-high 11-game road swing (Disney On Ice is using their building).

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