- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Two of the brightest NHL stars put on a show last night at Verizon Center.

Two of the league’s feeblest teams in the shootout also squared off, and it was the Washington Capitals’ one-on-one woes that continued. Jozef Stumpel and Ville Peltonen scored against Caps goalie Frederic Cassivi and Panthers netminder Ed Belfour stopped Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin to give Florida a 6-5 victory.

Washington lost for the ninth time in 10 shootouts, while Florida won for the first time in seven tries this season.

“We talked about changing [our shooters] a bit, but it is very difficult when you have 35-goal scorers that are just playing at the top of their game,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said of Ovechkin (now 1-for-10 in the shootout) and Semin (2-for-8). “I think that it is important that we don’t bail on them and show them a lack of support.”

Ovechkin and Panthers captain Oli Jokinen provided most of the highlights in regulation.

Ovechkin tied his career high with four points (two goals and two assists) while logging his third most ice time this year with 26 minutes and 33 seconds. The 21-year old Russian left wing had two four-point outings in his rookie season. Last night he matched his total output from the previous 11 games.

“I think when you play with Zubie and Clarkie, you know what they do,” Ovechkin said of not playing with his missing customary linemates Dainius Zubrus (trade) and Chris Clark (injury). “Today I play with [several different players], and today I had the puck all the time. I think today we play really well. Today was fun game for me and for our team.”

Jokinen proved equally difficult to contain. He had his third hat trick of the season, netting goals 26, 27 and 28 for the Panthers .

Earlier in the day, Washington completed its roster makeover by dealing Zubrus to Buffalo and Jamie Heward to Los Angeles. Florida completed a trade of Gary Roberts (to Pittsburgh) and also jettisoned Todd Bertuzzi (to Detroit) and Joel Kwiatkowski (also to the Penguins in a separate deal).

It was the Caps who felt the turnover effect the most early. Florida jumped to a 3-0 lead less than eight minutes into a wild first period.

When Stephen Weiss collected a rebound and flipped it into a wide-open cage to put the Panthers ahead by three, there was a boisterous chorus of boos from one of the smallest home crowds of the season. Hanlon had seen enough and called timeout to regroup.

“It was just, ‘Catch our breath here and there is lots of hockey left,’ ” Hanlon said. “It was an emotional day for everybody and it was an, ‘OK, we are in a hockey game now, boys. Let’s catch our breath and you know, just like catching fish — one at a time.’ ”

The trades left the Caps with 11 forwards and seven defensemen on the active roster (newly acquired center Jiri Novotny was the only scratch, and he will join the team for practice today). Hanlon was forced to juggle his lines, so there were plenty of combinations.

With Zubrus, the team’s first-line center since the end of the lockout, on his way to Toronto to meet his Buffalo teammates, the Caps received the three non-Ovechkin goals from three centers.

Brooks Laich tied the score at 5-5 in the third period, and Brian Sutherby and Kris Beech tallied power play goals. It was Sutherby’s first of his career on the man-advantage.

Cassivi made only his second appearance in two seasons with the Caps organization. He entered the game to start the second period after Brent Johnson allowed four goals on 15 shots in the first 20 minutes .

“I just have to prepare myself every night,” said Cassivi, who dressed for the Caps in eight previous games this season without playing. “It seemed like the last two periods the guys stepped up and played really well and really tight defensively, so that made my job a lot easier.”

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