- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

If Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee was waiting until after Tuesday night’s game against Carolina to determine whether he would be a buyer or an observer leading into Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, his team provided him with an emphatic answer.


The listless Caps provided little opposition for the visiting Hurricanes, allowing two short-handed goals in a 5-2 stinker that left fans simultaneously booing and leaving early.

The inefficient effort may force McPhee to act. He made three key deals at last year’s deadline when the Caps needed a jolt to climb up the Southeast Division standings; he may have to do the same this season even though the Caps lead Florida by 11 points.

“We’re going through this funk right now,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It looked like a complete lack of energy on the bench - I wish I could put my finger on it. I don’t know if it’s because of [the trade deadline] and people are worried and they hear rumors.”

A strength of the Caps recently has been the ability to bounce back from poor efforts. But aside from Alexander Semin, Washington’s top players were no-shows, and the Caps have lost consecutive games by at least three goals for the first time since late November.

Carolina started the night a point out of the final playoff spot and played with the necessary desperation; the Caps started the night tied for the second seed and played as individuals, trying to make the extra move instead of taking the shot or making an additional pass.

“We have to play together,” Caps forward Brooks Laich said. “We are where we are in the standings because we worked hard. Tonight we got outworked. Bruce always talks that will and want will win you hockey games. They had it and executed, and we didn’t do it.”

The Hurricanes built a 5-0 lead on only 18 shots against rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who got the start because Jose Theodore had the flu. The back-breakers were short-handed markers by Matt Cullen and Patrick Eaves less than four minutes apart.

The Caps allowed only six short-handed goals in their first 64 games. Cullen scored when he got past a pinching Alex Ovechkin at the Hurricanes’ blue line and beat Neuvirth with a low shot. Eaves scored when he received a pass from Ray Whitney and easily got past Nicklas Backstrom before snapping a shot over Neuvirth’s right shoulder.

“Our guys were skating around - Mike Green was doing nothing, and [Ovechkin] and the whole crew were just skating around,” Boudreau said. “It was not a pretty sight.”

Getting outworked is not a pretty sight, the same for allowing short-handed goals. But the most unsightly element of the Caps’ funk has been losing four of their last six home games.

“It still is a tough place to play,” center Sergei Fedorov said. “It’s only two games. We’re not in trouble or in deep problems. I think we can figure this out. We’ll look deep down and get back to our routine and the positive things and work from there.”

Semin (100th career goal) and Fedorov scored for the Caps. But Boudreau was livid with the second goal celebration when Semin jumped into a surprised Fedorov’s arms and both fell to the ice.

“We just made it 5-2, and we’re jumping on everybody as if we just won an overtime game - that was pretty embarrassing,” Boudreau said. “I’m sure if I was on the Carolina bench, I would have said, ‘Look at these idiots.’ ”

The Caps now have two chances to retool their roster before hosting Toronto on Thursday. In addition to the trade deadline, a call to Hershey could produce new bodies, including defenseman Karl Alzner.

Last year, the Caps acquired Fedorov, goalie Cristobal Huet and winger Matt Cooke at the deadline.

“We have to get through tomorrow, and then Thursday morning the team that we’re going to have is the team that will be on the ice,” Boudreau said. “Maybe that will put some ease on some of the guys.”

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