- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Eight days ago the Washington Capitals were out-hustled and out-shot in dominant fashion by the Florida Panthers.

The effort was progressively better in the next two contests, and the Caps had a chance yesterday against those same Panthers to move closer to the eighth spot in the conference and carry a lot of momentum into the five-day All-Star break.

It didn’t happen.

After a choppy first period, Florida seized control and dominated the final 40 minutes against Washington, winning 4-1 in front of 13,877 at Verizon Center.

“Maybe we are thinking we are better than we really are,” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. “Maybe we think we are a finesse team as opposed to a lunch pail team. I hope that is not the case because if it is we have a long 30-plus games to go. I think we’ve got too many good guys in this room to let that happen.”

Washington led 1-0 after the first period, but defenseman Mike Green picked up a delay of game penalty 34 seconds into the second for flipping the puck over the glass in the Caps defensive end. Just after Green left the box and joined the play, Florida’s Martin Gelinas tapped in Anthony Stewart’s nifty backhanded pass from across the crease to knot the score 1-1.

The Panthers took control from that point on, peppering Kolzig with shots and not allowing any kind of sustained offensive attack by the Caps, who were without top defenseman Brian Pothier because of illness, while Green was at less than 100 percent because of a bruised foot. Washington did not put a shot on goal until there was 5:45 left in the period and finished with only three.

“It is not their defensive system, it is just us,” Caps center Dainius Zubrus said. “I’m not taking anything away from them, but I think it is us. We’ve got to simple things out, make it more simplified and we’ve got to outwork them every shift. We just didn’t do that.”

Florida had nearly that many shots on the Caps’ first power play of the period. Rostislav Olesz broke in alone on Kolzig and could not score, but seconds later Josef Stumpel picked off an outlet attempt by Lawrence Nycholat and ripped a shot past Kolzig’s glove and off the inside of the post for a shorthanded goal and a 2-1 lead.

Another bad outlet pass led to Florida’s third goal. The Panthers’ Nathan Horton stepped in front of a soft backhanded attempt from Caps defenseman Steve Eminger to create a 2-on-1 and then fed Ville Peltonen for a goal 8:25 into the third period.

When the Caps finally did create chances against Florida goaltender Ed Belfour, he made a couple of key stops late in the final period, ceasing any thoughts of a comeback. The Panthers finished the game with a 42-18 shot advantage, and if not for Kolzig’s standout play the score could have been much worse.

The Caps killed off all 10 of Florida’s power play opportunities in part because Kolzig turned away 20 shots with his team a man down.

“To me that was the bigger downer — you only get so many of those types of performances in a year from your goaltender,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “Olie always play well, but that was just a spectacular game and you don’t want to waste that.”

There were seven penalties called in the first eight minutes of the contest and eight total infractions in the first period. Both teams had 5-on-3 opportunities and the Caps took advantage for their lone goal.

Alex Ovechkin, who combined with Alexander Semin for only four shots on net, faked a shot from the point and found Zubrus with a diagonal pass to the left of Belfour. The shot ricocheted off the inside of Belfour’s right knee and through his legs for Zubrus’ 17th goal of the season.

“[The penalties] really takes away the cohesion from your lines and your system,” Hanlon said. “It was a one o’clock, no flow, nothing going on type of game to get involved with. We identified that this game was up for grabs at the start of the second period.”

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