- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The biggest problem for the Washington Capitals isn’t that they have returned to their dressing room smarting from a loss in four straight contests.

But the fact the Caps left that same room following the second intermission with the lead in three of these four games is.

David Clarkson tied the game in the third period, and then Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner scored in a shootout for the New Jersey Devils to propel them to a 3-2 victory Monday night against the Caps at Verizon Center.

“Third periods are where good teams become great teams where they win those games no matter what,” Caps captain Chris Clark said. “It’s automatic. For us to be a great team, we’ve got to get to that point.”

The Caps had a 2-1 lead early in the third period and had several chances to put this one away. Three consecutive power-play chances - including a five-on-three for 53 seconds - came and went without an insurance goal.

Those are exactly the situations a team expected to deploy one of the top extra-man offenses in the league needs to take advantage of. The Caps didn’t, and it ended up costing them dearly.

“That was the time to do it,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Those are the ones where you have to have the killer instinct and put it away.”

Clarkson tied the contest at 2-2 for the Devils with 6:26 remaining in regulation. The Caps struggled to get the puck out of their own end and ended up spending about 90 seconds playing defense before Clarkson put a one-timer from the slot past goaltender Jose Theodore.

The Devils had a chance to win it in overtime with a power play, but Theodore stopped Parise twice - once with his stick near the right post and once with his glove - while sprawled on his back, and the Caps were able to kill off the penalty.

Theodore’s heroics didn’t earn the Caps another point, but he continued to perform like a No. 1 goaltender. He finished with 27 saves.

“He’s been playing awesome,” Clark said. “It is just one of those things. It was like Brent Johnson the past couple of years - he plays unbelievable, and we can’t win for him. It is the same with Jose. He was on top of his game all night.”

Before the game Boudreau decided to put Mike Knuble on the top line and move Alexander Semin to the second unit. It didn’t take long for Knuble’s impact to be felt in his first game skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Ovechkin sent the puck toward the net from along the right wall, and it caromed off Knuble near the crease. It came to Mike Green at the left circle, and he dropped to one knee to snap a shot into the top right corner of the net at 9:06 of the opening period.

The goal was Green’s first this season, and it came on his 24th birthday. He led all defensemen with 31 goals and 73 points last season and finished second in the Norris Trophy voting to Boston’s Zdeno Chara.

“I’ll be honest. Yeah, [I feel relieved to score],” Green said. “Obviously there are expectations on me to produce for some reason as a defenseman. I finally feel comfortable and back to having confidence, and tonight I felt like that.”

A little more than five minutes later the new-look top line struck again to make it 2-0. Ovechkin carried the puck into the zone on a three-on-two and sent it across to Knuble, whose shot from the right faceoff dot glanced off Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and into the cage for his second marker of the season.

Brian Rolston cut the Caps’ lead in half with the lone goal of the middle period. Rob Niedermayer led the Devils on a 4-on-2 break, and he sent a cross-ice pass to Rolston, who ripped a shot over Theodore’s shoulder.

“I think it is the process of learning, even though we have a team that is a fairly veteran team, the feeling of learning how to win again,” Boudreau said. “It will be good eventually to win a game again.”

Note - General manager George McPhee said he is working on a deal to send 2008 first-round pick Anton Gustafsson to a club in his native Sweden to play this season. Gustafsson has been a healthy scratch for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League in their four games.

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