- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

PHILADELPHIA.

Kneeling on the ice at Wachovia Center during practice yesterday, Alexander Semin took the puck with his stick and sent it high up into the stands.

It was an impressive trick.

What the Washington Capitals need, though, is someone who can shoot from about two or three feet away, fight off defenders, take hits and get the puck in the net.

That’s where this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers is being played — right in front of the crease.

The Capitals, down 2-1 with Game 4 tonight at Wachovia Center, have been thoroughly outplayed in that small space in front of both nets.

“They are trying to be too cute,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team’s shot selection so far in this series. “Trying to be perfect. That is not how you succeed.”

It’s not rocket science, either. This isn’t a revelation; it’s been happening for nearly the entire series.

“They are outworking and outhitting us,” Steve Eminger said. “I think that’s it. There is no secret to their game, no secret attack. They are beating us to battles. We have to change that. We have to be the aggressors.”

That was the message, though, going into Game 3, and there was little evidence of change. The Capitals were still outworked, still outhit, still beaten in battles, just as they were in their 2-0 loss in Game 2 at Verizon Center.

“We need to get more shots there [in front of the net] and get more traffic in front and hopefully bang in a few,” Brooks Laich said. “I think sometimes we have been a little too perimeter with our power play.”

You think?

“We would like to get more attention on the crease, but we need more shots to do that,” Boudreau said. “When you only get 19 shots a game [Washington was outshot 33 to 19 in the 6-3 loss in Game 3], there is usually not a lot of stuff happening around the crease.”

That goes back to shooters like Semin, who had one shot on goal Tuesday night. And, of course, everything goes back to Alex Ovechkin, the superstar who has as many goals in this series as Donald Brashear. Ovechkin had four shots on goal.

“Alex, he has to be better,” Boudreau said. “My history with him is that you can’t keep a good man down. They are doing a good job on him. Every time he touches the puck they are hitting him. He has to find a way to get away from them. The good ones do. I am certain in time he will.”

Tonight would be a good time.

The Capitals may catch a break with Ovechkin because his shadow this series, Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen, was hurt Tuesday night when he flew into the Capitals’ goal near the end of the second period.

Timonen missed the rest of the game with an “upper body injury.” He is expected to play tonight, but shutting down Ovechkin has to take its toll, and he should be slowed down. If the Flyers can keep sending out defensemen to hold Ovechkin in check, the extraordinary Ovechkin becomes ordinary.

Remarkably, as ineffective as Ovechkin has been and, quite frankly, as bad as the Capitals have been for most of this series, Tuesday night’s game still was within reach, and so is this series.

Despite being down 4-2 after two periods Tuesday night, Washington scored in the third period to make it a 4-3 game. Then came the bizarre penalty shot call that led to a Mike Richards goal and, finally, the empty netter with less than two minutes remaining.

If the Capitals do start winning some battles near the nets — and Ovechkin can break free — the series will be tied at 2-2, and then it’s a three-game series in which Washington again owns home ice advantage.

It’s not just the battle in front of the Flyers’ net, though. It is the battle being fought in front of Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet. Huet has been battered by the Flyers, who set up camp near the Washington goal.

Boudreau said after Tuesday’s loss he has no plans to turn to veteran Olie Kolzig in place of Huet tonight.

Yesterday in practice, with Kolzig in one net, Ovechkin positioned himself near the crease.

Kolzig shoved him out.

There was nothing cute about that.

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