- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2009

NEWARK, N.J. | The Washington Capitals have proved they can win games without Alex Ovechkin, but they haven’t shown they can best the New Jersey Devils with or without him.

Five straight goals by the Devils nullified a fast start for Washington, and the Caps were soundly defeated for the first time this season in a 5-2 loss Saturday night at Prudential Center. New Jersey is now 3-0 against Washington this season.

“We’re disappointed - these guys had already beaten us twice, and we wanted to come in here and make a statement, but it didn’t happen,” Brendan Morrison said. “It is not a good feeling.”

On Friday night the Minnesota Wild were a tired bunch, but Josh Harding kept his team close with great goaltending. The Caps, playing their second game in as many nights, did not receive such an effort from Jose Theodore.

The Caps’ veteran netminder yielded five goals on the first 18 shots he faced. After a great start to the season, Theodore has stopped just 125 of 147 shots in his past six outings for an .850 save percentage.

“It wasn’t really all bad goals, but you’ve got to find a way to make saves and tonight I didn’t make the key saves,” Theodore said. “I’m really not happy with the way I’ve played the past couple of games.

“I don’t think it is anything I’ve done differently with technique or work ethic. It is just about having that jump that I had and getting back to being really focused.”

After the Caps sprinted to a 2-0 lead, Martin Brodeur started playing like one of the best goalies of all time again, and the Devils took control of the contest. Colin White cut Washington’s lead in half with a long wrist shot that glanced off Brian Pothier’s skate in front of Theodore at 9:47.

The second period proved to be a disaster for the Caps. Jamie Langenbrunner scored 19 seconds into a power play with a one-timer from the left point at 5:44.

Alexander Semin made an ill-advised pass attempt from the right wing toward the center of the ice with a couple of his teammates heading toward the bench for a change. Travis Zajac intercepted the puck and ignited a two-on-none break that Zach Parise finished at 10:44 with his 10th goal of the year.

“It is not the way we play, and you can only tell certain people so many times,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That was the biggest goal against us to that point. We wanted to get it deep and work them in the corners, but we turned it around and gave them a breakaway.”

Matt Halischuk’s first NHL goal at 19:04 put an exclamation point on the middle period for the Devils. He took a cross-ice pass from Niclas Bergfors on a three-on-two and ripped a shot into the top right corner.

If the Caps were hoping for a surge coming out of the second intermission, it didn’t happen. New Jersey defenseman Cory Murphy’s shot from the right point off a faceoff beat Theodore 3:15 into the third. It was the first time all season Washington trailed by more than two goals.

The Caps struck on their first two shots of the game to open an early advantage. Morrison made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone on a power play, and then eventually fed Tomas Fleischmann for a shot from inside the right circle at 4:14.

Fleischmann now has seven goals and 10 points in nine games this season. It was a two-tally advantage less than a minute later. Mike Green sent a pass to Mathieu Perreault near the top of the circles for a one-timer that beat Brodeur along the ice as he slid across his crease at 5:02.

Perreault now has two goals and five points in the first six games of his NHL career. He may have been in danger of being sent back to Hershey despite his strong play with Ovechkin close to returning, but center Boyd Gordon did not play in the final 31 minutes and Boudreau said it was his back again (he missed the previous 13 games with back issues).

Should the Devils and Caps finish the season with the same number of points, New Jersey has secured the tiebreaker with the three wins. The Devils also pulled even with the Caps atop the Eastern Conference at 28 points with their eighth straight victory and have two games in hand on Washington.

“We needed to play a real sound, defensive game with almost no turnovers, and we weren’t able to do that,” Pothier said. “They had a lot of [odd-man rushes] tonight. It seems like we were coming across the blue line and instead of burying our heads and going to the net, we were going east-west. This team is so good in the middle of the ice that they just take everything away.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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