- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Washington Capitals did a lot of things right last night, like killing all six Florida power plays — a usually troublesome area for the team this season.

But the Caps also did just enough to cost them a game, such as not converting any of their five power-play opportunities, including a 30-second two-man advantage.

The result was the Caps’ losing in a shootout 4-3 at Verizon Center, when veteran Joe Nieuwendyk beat Olie Kolzig for the only score in the tie-breaking segment of the game.

That ruined an otherwise special night for right wing Chris Clark, who recorded his first career hat trick to account for all of Washington’s offense. Clark now has 18 goals, 16 assists and 34 points on the season, all three figures career bests for the 30-year-old.

The loss to Florida was the sixth straight for the Caps this season and seventh straight overall. Washington hasn’t beaten the Panthers since Feb. 27, 2004.

“It’s always nice to get a win no matter what happens on the ice individually,” said Clark, who had a pair of two-goal games earlier in his career.

“Even the first [goal], most of the time those don’t go in because you shoot five-hole and [Roberto Luongo] usually has his legs closed,” Clark said. “It was just a case of things bouncing my way tonight, even the backhander. It goes off the post and in. On any other day it goes off the post and into the corner.”

Two of the goals were created by rookie left wing Alex Ovechkin, who is learning he can be a very effective set-up man when the opposition throws extra coverage his way.

“[The hat trick is] a credit to him as well,” Clark said. “He’s been showing that side of him lately when other teams are putting two, sometimes three guys on him and he’s finding the open man. It’s been me or [Dainius Zubrus] who have been on the receiving end of his great plays.”

Ovechkin had two assists but failed to score a goal for the fourth time in five games, a slump by his standards. But Zubrus had an assist on Clark’s second goal to extend his point streak to seven games. He has two goals and seven assists during the streak.

The loss was the fifth straight for Washington, a streak that seemed to motivate Ovechkin. He had eight shots on goal — plus one more missed attempt in the shootout. Matt Pettinger and Brian Willsie also missed in the shootout.

The Panthers scored two goals within 15 seconds in the second period, pulling back into the game after Clark had put Washington up twice in the first period. Clark tied the game two minutes into the third period, but neither team could score the rest of regulation or in the five-minute overtime.

Notes — The Caps are home tomorrow night against Montreal but have only three home games left — all next month. … Washington has gone three straight games and four out of five without losing a single man-game to injury or illness. There have been entire seasons when the club didn’t go a single game without at least one player out injured. … Defenseman Nolan Yonkman was a healthy scratch last night. … Former Caps player Joel Kwiatkowski had an assist for Florida last night. … Prior to Friday night, Luongo had been in net for all 26 Florida wins. Jamie McLennan beat the Islanders on Friday night going the route, the first time in 34 consecutive games Luongo didn’t appear.

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