- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

The two-man advantage is rapidly turning into a distinct disadvantage for the Washington Capitals.

In fact, the Caps might be better off turning down the lopsided opportunities.

Washington lost 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers at MCI Center last night, its second straight loss to a top Eastern Conference team by the same score. In both cases — against the Flyers and Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators — the insurance tally went into an empty net.

That can mean one of many things. It could mean the Caps were one lucky bounce away from being tied, and they are playing much better than their record indicates — at least against top-notch competition. Or it could mean top-flight teams are not taking Washington seriously, playing just well enough to eke out two points.

What it means for sure, at least in the past two games, is the Caps can’t score when they have a two-man advantage, something that should be a sure thing.

Against Ottawa, which was a one-goal game until the final 22 seconds, Washington was up two men for a total of 3:57. Washington had four shots during that span, and all were rejected.

Last night — a one-goal game until the final 20 seconds — the Caps were up a pair for 2:19 but this time produced only a single shot on goalie Antero Niittymaki. A goal in either game would have moved Washington into a tie, but that wasn’t the case.

“It’s not an easy thing,” said defenseman Jamie Heward, who plays a point on power plays. “It’s one of those things where … a lucky bounce here or there is going to determine a goal. Teams practice their 5-on-3s all the time now because of all the [penalty] calls. Every team goes through ups and downs with it, and we’ll continue to work at it and hope it gets better … to win us a game.”

But last night it was more than just not scoring with the advantage. Washington allowed the Flyers to tie the game with a short-handed goal, then surrendered the game-winner on a power play when defenseman Brendan Witt had to drop his broken stick and couldn’t get a replacement in time to properly defend.

“It was 1-0 at the time, and they tied it up,” goalie Olie Kolzig said of the short-handed score. “Then there was the back-to-back 5-on-3s. You give a team like that two opportunities on 5-on-3s, and eventually they’re going to score.”

Rookie Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington, his 25th of the season in just his 39th game. Chris Valentine took 56 games to score his 25th goal as a rookie in 1981-82, the fastest until last night. Bobby Carpenter, who had 32 the same season Valentine broke in, holds the Caps’ record for goals by a first-year player.

Ovechkin’s goal was unusual for him. He normally scores from close range, but last night Ovechkin unloaded a booming slap shot from above the left circle, easily beating Niittymaki.

Notes — Center Jeff Halpern and left wing Jeff Friesen, both with groin problems, were injury scratches. Center Andrew Cassels and defenseman Ivan Majesky were out because of coaching decisions. … Washington practices at noon today at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, then plays host to Florida at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

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