- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ATLANTA | Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen was fabulous Tuesday night, but the Washington Capitals‘ performance contributed far more to a blowout loss.

Lehtonen made 49 saves, and the Atlanta Thrashers cruised to a 5-1 victory against an uninspired Caps club at half-empty Philips Arena.

“Kari Lehtonen was great all game, but we were still really, really bad in the first two periods,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We were giving the puck away; we didn’t force at all on the penalty kill. We did everything wrong that a team could do. … There were a lot of effort issues, I thought.”

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Caps, and it was a franchise-record sixth straight victory for the Thrashers, who entered the evening 30 points behind Washington in the Southeast Division.

The opening 40 minutes were disastrous for the Caps, who fell behind 4-0. Several players were disinterested on defense, unwilling to put in the extra work to beat a goalie on top of his game.

“It is hard to explain, but if you look at the last game [a 5-4 win against Carolina] we weren’t happy with the game we played. I don’t think we played as tight defensively as we had the previous two games on the road,” goalie Jose Theodore said. “Bruce wanted us to make sure we played tight defensively, but sometimes when you get in bad habits it is hard to come and play the next day the way we want to.”

Colby Armstrong put the Thrashers on the board at 10:13 of the opening period. Rich Peverley weaved his way through the Caps’ defense with the puck, and eventually Armstrong sent it toward the net. It hit defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and bounced past Theodore.

Brian Pothier, playing in his first NHL game since Jan. 3, 2008, was assessed a hooking penalty later in the period, and Atlanta scored its first of three straight power-play markers. Thrashers forward Slava Kozlov took advantage of a tired penalty-killing unit at 15:43. He walked the puck from the right point into the circle and ripped a shot through a crowd for his 20th of the season.

Pothier was recalled Sunday from Hershey of the American Hockey League after a four-game conditioning stint with the Bears. He logged 16:51 of ice time, including 57 seconds on the power play.

“It really wasn’t the game I dreamed I would come back to,” Pothier said. “For the first game, I felt pretty good. I saw the ice decent. I made a couple of mistakes that led to penalties, and we got in trouble, so I was a little frustrated by that. Overall, I felt decent.”

It was all Thrashers again in the second period. With John Erskine in the box for hooking, recent addition Anssi Salmela skated down the right wing and toward the slot before putting a shot off defenseman Tom Poti and past Theodore for his first NHL marker at 7:18.

Alexander Semin took a hooking penalty just seconds after Milan Jurcina had finished serving two minutes for boarding, and the Thrashers pushed their lead to four goals. Tobias Enstrom’s shot from the top of the circle at 12:59 found its way through a screen provided by Bryan Little - and it proved to be the last shot Theodore faced. He was replaced by Simeon Varlamov, who was also recalled Sunday from Hershey and appeared in his third NHL game.

“[Theodore’s] got to play [Tuesday against Florida], and if he’s going to play [Tuesday], I was sort of sick and tired of him bailing our team out time and time again without getting the support he deserves at this point,” Boudreau said.

Eric Perrin beat Varlamov at 16:38 of the third period to make it 5-0. Washington’s Eric Fehr scored his 11th of the season with just 1:15 left to set the final margin.

Washington didn’t have a power play in the first 36-plus minutes. Their first opportunity came when Atlanta’s Boris Valabik slashed Alex Ovechkin on the hand. Ovechkin shoved Valabik after the play and proceeded to deliver three crunching hits on his next two shifts - but it was far too late.

Ovechkin has feasted on Lehtonen in his career, and his 23 goals against Atlanta are his most against any franchise. But Lehtonen won the battle Tuesday, turning aside 10 shots from last season’s MVP.

“I would have liked to see it earlier - I would have liked to see stuff like that from everybody earlier,” Boudreau said. “There’s too much inconsistency.”



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