- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

The Washington Capitals certainly have struggled to score goals during the past month, but last night may have been a new low.

Cam Ward stopped all 25 shots he faced and the Carolina Hurricanes picked up a much-needed 3-0 victory against the Caps at Verizon Center. It was the second straight game without a goal for the Caps, and their dry spell is now at 131 minutes, 47 seconds and counting — dating to Brian Sutherby’s tally in the third period last Saturday against the Islanders.

“We got shots but we didn’t get the second shots or the second efforts,” captain Chris Clark said. “They cleared the front of the net and the goalie was able to see most of the shots. I wouldn’t say they weren’t quality shots, but there wasn’t anything extra there.”

The Caps had been shut out on three previous occasions this season before being blanked by Toronto on Tuesday night, and responded with a victory each time. But quality offensive chances were few and far between last night.

Washington has now lost a season-high six straight games, 11 of its past 12 outings and 20 of 25 since a three-game winning streak in early January.

“It is a pretty long tunnel right now,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said when asked about a light at the end of one. “There will be tomorrow. I am not having a lot of fun right now. I am trying to see it. As always with our group, I am proud of the guys.

“They hang in there, and this is harder on them than anyone in this whole area.”

While Ward was solid in net for the defending Stanley Cup champions, Brent Johnson was even better at the other end. Johnson stopped 42 of 44 offerings from the Hurricanes. The Caps may have struggled to produce second chances, but Carolina hounded Johnson with pressure, recording 35 shots in the final 40 minutes.

Carolina entered the game in a 1-for-35 funk on the power play and the Hurricanes had seven more chances last night, but the Caps killed off all seven.

“The guys played pretty well — they were just bagged out there on the PK,” Johnson said. “After we lost [John Erskine] it was pretty tough. They were all pretty tired, but they played pretty [darn] well.”

Carolina got on the board less than two minutes into the second period. Johnson turned aside a shot from the left point, but the Hurricanes’ pressure in front of the net proved to be too much. Scott Walker’s rebound was rebuffed, but he collected the puck below the goal line and backhanded it back in front of Johnson.

Andrew Ladd was there and put it in for his eighth goal of the season. Ladd, who at 21 is the youngest member of the Hurricanes, now has points in three straight games.

With a little more than seven minutes left in the third period Rod Brind’Amour intercepted a pass from Donald Brashear in the Caps’ end. Carolina’s captain slipped the puck to Justin Williams, who notched his team-leading 32nd goal of the season to put the Hurricanes ahead 2-0. Niclas Wallin flipped the puck into the empty net for his second marker of the year to close the scoring and ignite a boisterous chorus of boos from the Caps fans who remained.

The Caps, who had converted two of 18 power plays in the past three games, had five chances with the extra man — including a 5-on-3 for 90 seconds. During the two-man advantage Alexander Semin had a rebound bounce to him to the left of a wide-open goal, but he pushed the shot over the cage.

Notes — Erksine left the game with a dislocated thumb after he tried to fight Walker in the second period. He is expected to miss the rest of the season. …

Defenseman Steve Eminger joined Bryan Muir as healthy scratches. Eminger had played in four straight games after being scratched for six. With Mike Green’s return from Hershey the Caps began the night with eight healthy defensemen, and Hanlon said Eminger’s exclusion had more to do with the numbers crunch than issues with his play.

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