Tuesday, November 14, 2006

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Washington Capitals were not pleased with their performance last night, saying almost to a man they could and should have played better. And that was in a 4-1 victory.

The Caps again showed how much their game and their goals have improved by winning for the fourth time in their last five games. It was their second win this season over Florida, a team the Caps beat once in eight tries last season.

“This was a very important game for us because we didn’t play very well against them last year,” said Dainius Zubrus, who scored twice. “We are above them in the standings, and that’s where we want to be. Any division game is huge for us, and that’s why we want to separate ourselves from them, and winning games like that will do it. But we had [goalie Olie Kolzig], and he was unbelievable again. We got to cut down the shots, cut down the chances but he kept us in there the whole game.”

Alex Ovechkin and Matt Pettinger had the other two goals for the Caps, but the star of the night was Kolzig, who saved 44 of 45 shots, the lone goal coming from Nathan Horton when Kolzig was screened on a power play in the second period. Otherwise, he was flawless.

“I thought every puck that came at him in the first period was a hand grenade,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “They were bouncing and bouncing. He did a great job just keeping everything in front of him. We tried really hard to clear rebounds, and he just settled right in. He gave us a great chance to win the game.”

It was the eighth win of the season for Washington (8-5-4) and gives the team 20 points after 17 games, a sign of improvement considering the Caps didn’t get to 20 points last season until the 26th game.

Florida has lost four in a row and nine out of 11 in large part because it has been taking far too many penalties. The Panthers cut down on penalties last night — each team was called for four — and each team scored one power-play goal.

But it was the final two penalties that cost Florida any chance to win the game. Trailing by a goal 13 minutes into the third period, the Panthers took two minors within 30 seconds, and Washington had a two-man advantage for a minute and a half. Zubrus used the occasion to score the first of his two goals (the other was an empty-netter), and the game was over.

“Tonight we didn’t feel we were moving the puck around as well as we like to,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “On the 5-on-3 we were fortunate, and that ended up salting it away for us.

“But Olie certainly played a great game, and we liked a lot of things we did. But I thought tonight in pursuing pucks we came within a foot or so, then swung away and didn’t do anything. We could have done something but chose to pull back, and that’s certainly not us.”

Notes — Right wing Richard Zednik, who jammed his wrist Nov. 3, continues to be a medical scratch. The Caps have lost 20 man-games to injury, one of the lower figures in the league this season. By contrast, Florida is up to 35 man-games lost. …

Defenseman Bryan Muir (two games), center Brooks Laich (five games) and center Kris Beech (five games) were the coaching scratches.

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