Thursday, March 23, 2006

SUNRISE, Fla. — In the closing seconds of last night’s game, the Washington Capitals trailed by a goal but were on the power play, and pulling the goalie gave them a two-man advantage with the puck in the Florida Panthers’ zone. What followed was a sequence that sums up Washington’s problems this season.

Washington took a penalty to even the sides and basically give the advantage back to the Panthers. Florida won 3-2 at BankAtlantic Center, holding the Caps off in the waning seconds.

“We were 6-on-4 for a very good period of time, and we had chances,” said center Dainius Zubrus, who was in the middle of the action. “We got pucks to the net, but we just couldn’t finish.”

That has been the story of the Caps’ season when it comes to special teams. Both the penalty-killers and the power-play units rank at or near the bottom of the league and have been all season because of an inability to finish.

There was no better example of that than last night. Both teams had 10 opportunities on power plays, but the Caps converted just once while Florida pushed three through.

And as far as taking penalties, both teams said last night they were frustrated with the calls — or the lack thereof.

“I’m not saying we lost because of the referees,” Zubrus said. “We had our chances — 6-on-4 at the end, excellent chance to score a goal. It was in our hands to tie it up and hopefully win the game later on.”

But because so little of last night’s game was played at full strength, the contest had no flow. No penalties were called in the first 16 minutes of the game, and then hardly a minute went by without a whistle.

Last night the Caps hit triple digits in power-play goals allowed, giving up three to bring their yearly total to 101. That is seven more than the club has given up in any other season. The previous record was established by the worst team in Washington history — the first-year expansion club of 1974-75.

Coach Glen Hanlon refused to get involved in the postgame discussion of officiating, saying he has a child to put through college and needs the money.

“I thought the best part of the game was the first 15 minutes, where each coach was playing his whole bench, there was a real flow to the game, the players seemed to be into it and I thought the tempo was pretty good,” he said. “But from when the first penalty was called, it was just total chaos.”

Zubrus had the only goal of the game that wasn’t on a power play, but it came with the two sides each skating a man down. Washington’s other score came from Brian Willsie on a power play in the first period.

Rookie Alex Ovechkin played 26 minutes, double-shifting with the first and fourth lines. However, he was rocked back and forth by checkers and had little room to maneuver.

Brent Johnson was in goal for the Caps and did a respectable job. He faced 40 shots and gave up only power-play scores, one of them with his team down two men.

Notes — Jon Sim, who was traded to Florida from Philadelphia during the season, has dominated the Caps since the preseason; he had two hat tricks against the Caps in the exhibition season and has beaten them for seven goals during the regular season, including one last night. …

Defenseman Bryan Muir recovered sufficiently from the flu to play, meaning the team again had no players out with illness or injury. Defenseman Nolan Yonkman was the healthy scratch. …

The Caps are at Tampa Bay tonight for their seventh meeting of the season. Washington also closes the season at the Lightning on April 18.

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