- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C. — For the Washington Capitals to finish this four-game road trip in a positive manner, they are likely to need a better start.

The Caps have lost six consecutive games away from Verizon Center and have allowed the first goal in five of them, including each of the first three contests of this trip. In the past two games the Caps have put themselves in an early two-goal hole and have not been able to recover. It is a trend they will try to reverse tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center.

“It is hard to play catch-up all the time,” Caps defenseman Brian Pothier said. “When a team scores first you get more confidence, and then maybe the goalie settles into a rhythm, and it’s tough to come back.”

Florida forged a 2-0 advantage Saturday night against Washington, and Alexander Semin’s goal midway through the second period did little to stop the Panthers’ rout.

The defensive effort was clearly better two nights ago in Ottawa, but the Caps again fell behind by two goals and failed to build on Chris Clark’s tally in the final seconds of the first period. The Senators netted a pair of goals less then a minute apart in the second period and cruised to a victory.

“I thought the late goal would help us get some momentum,” Clark said. “It is pretty tough to come back against a team with all of that firepower once you get behind the eight-ball like that.”

Two of the three defeats on this excursion — the longest in calendar days of the season — partly can be attributed to playing two of the hottest teams in the NHL in Tampa Bay (completed a five-game winning streak) and Ottawa (10-1-1 in its last 12).

The Caps, however, face another team with plenty of momentum tonight. Carolina has not lost in regulation in its past five games and has moved within striking distance of Southeast Division-leading Atlanta.

“A lot of teams get streaky,” Clark said. “With our division and even the conference being so tight, teams need to be playing their best hockey right now. I wouldn’t say it is desperation, but we definitely need a sense of urgency to go into the All-Star break on a high note.”

In addition to allowing a combined 17 goals the last three games, the Caps have struggled at the offensive end. Washington mustered only 17 shots against Florida, and though the Caps put 30 on net against Ottawa, there were not many quality scoring chances.

At times just getting into the offensive zone has been an issue, and both opponents dominated the Caps in puck possession.

“We need to tighten up in all areas,” Clark said. “We’re not getting enough pucks in the zone, and we’re not getting enough turnovers. When you create turnovers it will lead to more chances.”

Notes —The Caps’ depleted defense corps has lost another to a foot injury. Already without John Erskine and Bryan Muir because each has a broken foot, the Caps will be without Mike Green against Carolina after he took a shot off of his foot in the second period Tuesday night. An initial X-ray was negative, but he will be re-evaluated when the swelling goes down.

The team will summon defenseman Jeff Schultz today from Hershey to replace Green. Schultz has one goal and five assists for the Bears in 33 games. This will be the third call-up of the season for the 20-year-old Schultz, who has appeared in four games for the Caps without registering a point.

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