- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

PITTSBURGH— The search for answers on offense continues for the Washington Capitals.

Washington outshot the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday in front of an overflow crowd at Mellon Arena and had plenty of prime scoring opportunities, but Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet for the fifth time in seven games as the Caps lost 3-2.

“When Ovechkin doesn’t score — and I’m not saying that it’s him — but if you take a look at the last year and a half he’s a big part of our offense,” said Caps coach Glen Hanlon, whose team had 31 shots, six more than the Penguins. “Normally, this year we’ve been fairly consistent at getting one goal here or there on the power play, and when Ovechkin only gets one goal in seven games, it’s tough to win those games.

“Don’t mistake that. It’s not his fault that we’re not winning. If you’re asking where the offense has gone — he’s a big part of that.”

Ovechkin finished the game with five shots on goal, including three in the third period. There was one scrum in front of the net on which he nearly steered the puck toward Penguins goaltender Jocelyn Thibault from his backside, but most of his chances were wrist shots with a defender in front him.

When these two teams last met Feb. 3, Ovechkin was second in the NHL in points, 12 behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. After Crosby was credited with one assist yesterday, he now has 19 more points than Ovechkin, who has slipped into a three-way tie for seventh overall.

“I feel OK, you know,” Ovechkin said. “No, I’m not tired. I feel very good. We … I don’t know what to say.”

The Caps have now lost three games in a row and 12 of 16 since pounding Philadelphia 6-2 at Verizon Center on Jan. 9. Pittsburgh extended its streak of contests without a loss in regulation to 16 games (14-0-2) and now has won six of the seven matchups in the Ovechkin-Crosby Era.

Left wing Alexander Semin, who also has been mired in a scoring slump, had a penalty shot with the Caps down 3-1 and 5:56 left in the game. Semin went to his backhand and had deked Thibault out of position, but the puck hit off the crossbar.

Semin did notch his 31st of the season with 44 seconds left after goaltender Brent Johnson had gone to the bench for an extra attacker. The score pulled the Caps within one, but they could not force overtime. It was Semin’s second goal in the past nine contests.

Washington failed to convert on three power-play opportunities. The Caps were able to set up for an extended period their first time with the extra man and created a few scoring chances, but the next two produced little positive results. The Caps are now 5-for-40 on the power play in the past eight games, with two of the goals coming via fluky bounces off Verizon Center boards against the Rangers.

“It is not the first game where the first power play, we do what we talk about doing or what we practice doing, but then after that we kind of get away from that,” Caps center Dainius Zubrus said. “I couldn’t tell you for what reason. Probably because we didn’t score on the first one, but that’s where we’ve got to stay mentally a little bit stronger and know that we are doing the right thing.”

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead with the goal of the night. Malkin carried the puck behind the net before passing it out to Sergei Gonchar at the right point and setting up in the corner between the goal line and the right circle. Gonchar fed the puck back to him, and Malkin blasted a one-timer short side over Johnson’s left shoulder.

“It was a perfect shot — you don’t teach those things,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Washington’s first goal came when Richard Zednik tried a wraparound, but the puck trickled out to defenseman Jeff Schultz, who fired a slap shot that glanced off Zednik’s skate and past Thibault. It was announced as Schultz’s first NHL goal but later changed to Zednik’s sixth of the year.

Note — Defenseman Steve Eminger, center Kris Beech and left wing Ben Clymer were healthy scratches. It was the eighth straight for Beech, third consecutive for Clymer and second in a row for Eminger.

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