- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

For a while during the first period Wednesday night in Denver, it appeared the Washington Capitals were going to completely ignore coach Glen Hanlon’s pleading not to take unnecessary penalties and more than anything else, not to bunch them up and therefore leave half the club cold on the bench and the other half exhausted.

Yet with 3:30 to go in the first, defenseman Brian Pothier was called for a hold and center Kris Beech for a trip, the team’s fourth and fifth penalties of the period. The Caps were down two men for a full two minutes, an open invitation for the host Colorado Avalanche to put the game away.

It didn’t happen. Washington’s rapidly improving penalty-killers, starting with goalie Olie Kolzig playing his best game of the season, withstood the assault and rode that span of time during a 5-3 victory. It was a kill that demoralized the Avalanche and was the turning point in the game.

“You have to score in that situation,” Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville told the Rocky Mountain News. “It’s a huge boost the other way. It’s almost like a goal for them. That was definitely a major turning point.”

Said Caps general manager George McPhee yesterday: “Our special teams are improving. They’re better than they were last year. It looks like the power play is starting to click and the penalty-killing has been better. And those two ingredients win a lot of games for you at this level. We recognized after last year that we were going to have to spend a lot of time on special teams. We have and the results are starting to show.”

Last season, the first in the Caps’ rebuilding program, their special teams were close to the league cellar — the power play was 26th out of 30, connecting less than 15 percent of the time, while the penalty-killing was worse, 28th at 78.9 percent.

They are better this season although the climb back is just starting for a young team. The power play is up to 14th at 17 percent, slightly better than the league average. The penalty-killers are up to 19th at 81.2 percent and probably would get better faster if the club started taking fewer penalties.

At Colorado, the Caps were 1-for-3 on the power play and killed six of seven penalties. Washington got goals from Chris Clark, Mike Green on a sensational end-to-end rush, Alex Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus and Matt Bradley to open a four-game road swing with a win.

The game was not without its tense moments. With just less than three seconds left, Ovechkin was struck on the right ankle by a shot from Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and had to be assisted from the ice and to the dressing room.

“He’s absolutely fine,” McPhee said. “He was fine 20 minutes after it happened.”

Notes — The Caps are at Vancouver tonight and in Edmonton tomorrow night. The final game of the trip is Monday in Calgary, the Caps’ last game west of the Mississippi this season. … Left wing Alexander Semin matched Ovechkin’s torrid start last season, extending his point streak to eight games (eight goals and four assists). Ovechkin’s goal was his fifth. Clark has nine points in eight games. He is well on his way to surpassing his career high in points of 39. … Kolzig’s 45 saves represented his highest saves total in a victory in his career. He has 257 wins, one behind Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 33rd place. … Matt Pettinger made his season debut after missing seven games with a bruised shoulder and had a pair of assists.

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