The game winner.  Photos © 2009 C. Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 8 -- From the drop of the opening faceoff Thursday night at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals played like they were in the third game of a western swing instead of their second home game of the season after a day off.

The New York Rangers outworked, outplayed and outhustled the Caps the entire game.  The Blueshirts (3-1-0) took advantage of defensive miscues on their first two goals, and victimized starting goalie Jose Theodore for the last two.

Marian Gaborik scored the tying and winning goals 2:31 apart in the third period, on soft wrist shots from the top of the face off circles, practically carbon copies of each other.

Of Gaborik's heroics, coach Bruce Boudreau said, "Those are the ones, in the third period, you've got to stop. I mean, you've just got to stop."

Theodore actually played very well in the first two frames, making several highlight reel stops.  But both of Gaborik's wristers went right through the veteran goalie at the worst possible time.

Boudreau spared no one in his post-game comments.  Nor should he have.  All the bad trends the Capitals showed in their last two games -- individual play on offense, bad positioning on defense, allowing late goals -- permeated the entire evening. 

Washington has allowed six third period goals in the last three games.
"It's a really upsetting trend," Boudreau said. "Better stop in a hurry."
Asked if this was a game his team should have held on to, Boudreau snapped, "Anytime you have a lead in the last ten minutes of the game, you have to. If you're going to be a good team, you have to."
The Caps' vaunted power play was one-for-nine -- including two five-on-threes -- and actually surrendered two power plays back by taking penalties while having the advantage. 

"We played as individuals instead of a unit," Boudreau said. "That's what happens. We talked about it between periods. If you're going to play like individuals, you're going to get individual results.  Nothin's gonna happen."
Boudreau wasn't done criticizing his team, which came into this affair scoring five goals a game.
"The guys that are making mistakes are not first-year guys," he added.  "These guys should know what the hell they're doing."
He pointed to his third and fourth lines, saying, "If you're not going to score, you better not be on for any goals-against."
"Right now we're not playing good enough."
The collapse ruined Nicklas Backstrom's big night.  He had two goals, one a gift of a misplay by Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves) on a shot from center ice, and a power play marker, set up from nifty passing by Alexander Semin (goal, assist) and Brooks Laich, who drew the defense to the goal line and left the Swede alone in the slot.

Backstrom now has 10 points (2-8-10) in four games and leads the league in scoring, one point ahead of teammates Semin (5-4-9) and Alex Ovechkin, who came in as the league's leading scorer with five goals and four assists, but was kept off the scoresheet despite nine shots on goal.
Ryan Callahan and Ales Kotalik scored for New York in the second period.
Washington (2-1-1) has little time to think about the adjustments they have to make, as they travel to Detroit to face the always tough Red Wings Saturday evening.

Boudreau's comments speak for themselves, but with this offense, one-for-nine on the power play doesn't cut it.  Allowing third period goals aren't going to cut it, either.  Especially soft wrist shots that go through the five hole.  And if you want to have fun on offense, you also better get back on defense.

Because if they don't find the answers, the result, as we've seen three third periods in a row now, is not pretty.

New York Rangers (2-1-0, 4 pts, 2nd in Atlantic Division)
Washington Capitals (2-0-1, 5 pts, 1st in Southeast Division)

Tonight's matchup pits two teams that are intimately familiar with each other, having played a seven-game first round playoff series against each other last season. 

New York comes in on the heels of a 3-2 win Monday in New Jersey.  They fell in Pittsburgh 3-2 to open the season last Friday, and beat Ottawa the next night 5-2. 

As he was for last season's playoff series, Henrik Lundqvist has been in goal for each game for the Rangers.  New York is playing with two rookie defensemen, Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy, and the pair have combined for  three goals and four points in the Rangers' first three games this season.

Brandon Dubinsky and free agent signee Marian Gaborik each have two goals and two assists thus far.  And the Rangers bring old friend Donald Brashear back to invade his old turf and mix things up a bit.  Interesting to see if "The Donald" can get anyone on the Caps to tango with him tonight or if he'll be reduced to spectator at the end of the bench.

The Caps enter play with four of the top six scorers in the league after a week of play.  Alex Ovechkin (5-4-9, +6), Nicklas Backstrom (0-8-8, +5), Alexander Semin (4-3-7, +2) and Brooks Laich (3-3-6, +2) litter the top of the scoring list.

For the first five periods of the season, the Caps looked like world-beaters, dominating the Bruins in Boston 4-1 and spanking Toronto around the Verizon Center ice, before letting up in the third period of that contest. 

Then, a road trip to Philly served as a wake-up call, as the Flyers netted six, including three power play goals, and coach Bruce Boudreau was left to yank Semyon Varlamov, who he described as allowing a couple of soft goals.

Jose Theodore will start between the pipes tonight, as he did for the opener in Boston.

Washington returned forward Boyd Kane to AHL Hershey, and Tyler Sloan will make his first entry into the lineup tonight, albeit at wing with Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley instead of his customary rearguard spot.  Milan Jurcina gets the night off from his normal duties, in Boudreau's defensive rotation.




Scratches: Nylander, Jurcina

WASGF:  2nd (15/5.00)  GA:  22nd (11/3.67) PP:  9th (33.3 %)  PK:  10th (82.4%)
NYRGF:  14th (10/3.33)  GA:  7th (7/2.33) PP:  26th (13.3 %)  PK:  8th (83.3%)

WAS:  RW Eric Fehr (shoulders-out), LW Tomas Fleischmann (leg-out)
NYR:  C Sean Avery (knee-questionable)

The Washington Capitals came into hostile territory and went home with a point against the Flyers in Philadelphia last night, losing 6-5 in overtime.  But after squandering a third period lead on an "own goal", having the game-winner batted in off a rebound, and being on the wrong end of nine minor penalties, to a man the Caps must feel like they let one get away from them last night.

"You take [nine minor penalties] in a game, you're not going to win that game, and we took six in one period," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's how four goals get scored against you. It's something that's unacceptable."

The teams played scoreless hockey though one period, and it looked like it would be a nail-biter in the sold out, orange-bathed Wachovia Center.  It turned out to be a donnybrook, as 11 goals would fall in the resultant two-plus period, with the game-winner potted by none other than thorn-in-the-side Danny Briere with 1:08 remaining in overtime.

The Caps had the opportunity to avoid the extra play, but could not take advantage.  Brendan Morrison had a puck bounce off his skate into the Flyers net to take a 5-4 lead with 10:28 left in the third period.  But six minutes later, Boyd Gordon was whistled for holding. 

The Flyers power play unit, which had scored twice already, took the ice.  Scott Hartnall, locks flowing, fired on net, and Jose Theodore -- who replaced a shaky Semyon Varlamov in the second period -- made the save.  But the rebound skipped straight to defenseman Tom Poti, who was in position but just couldn't play the puck with his stick.  It bounced off Poti, back into Theodore, and then into the net for the equalizer.

"Tonight we were our worst enemy," Morrison said. "We came back and took the lead in the third, and that's a game we should have seal down and win. Tonight it was our penalties. We just couldn't stay out of the box. We have to learn this lesson quickly if we want to be a good team, not a great team."

The nine minor penalties were mostly crimes of laziness, including three holdings, two hookings and two interference calls.

A bigger, more long-term concern, was the play of Varlamov.  Heralded as the goalie of the future, last night showed he still has a way to go to prove his mettle as he allowed four goals on 25 shots in just under 34 minutes, including three to Flyers captain Mike Richards.

"Varlamov has to be more mentally tough to play," Boudreau said. "One thing that's reared it's ugly head right now is they score in bunches on him. I think he gets down on himself, and we have to get him out of that."

"I thought there were some soft goals."

The Alexes -- Ovechkin and Semin -- took care of the first four goals, each netting a pair.  But on this night, scoring goals wasn't the problem.  Preventing them, and the bad situations in which they were scored, was.


01:37 Power Play - Mike Richards (3), Snap Shot. Assist: Carle, Pronger
02:44 Alex Ovechkin (4), Wrist Shot. Assist: Bradley, Backstrom
04:33 Kimmo Timonen (1), Slap Shot. Assist: Carle, Gagne
07:33 Alex Ovechkin (5), Wrist Shot. Assist: Backstrom
12:26 Alexander Semin (3), Wrist Shot. Assist: Green, Morrisonn
13:49 Power Play - Mike Richards (4), Wrist Shot. Assist: Carle
14:07 Mike Richards (5), Snap Shot. Assist: Carle

08:18 Power Play - Alexander Semin (4), Snap Shot. Assist: Backstrom, Ovechkin
09:32 Brendan Morrison (2), Tip-In. Assist: Bradley, Laich
15:45 Power Play - Scott Hartnell (1), Backhand Shot. Assist: Coburn, Timonen

03:52 Danny Briere (1), Snap Shot. Assist: Timonen, Carter

1. M. Richards - PHI (Goals: 3, Assists: 0)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)
3. D. Briere - PHI (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
Matt Carle set a Flyers record for mosts assists by a defenseman in one period, helping with all four Flyers goals in the second period.
Matt Bradley fought Ian LaPerriere in the first period.
Philly out shot Washington 37-35.
Washington has scored 15 goals in three games and given up 11.

The Washington Capitals got six goals from five different players, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and cruised home with a 6-4 victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs before a capacity crowd at D.C.'s Verizon Center.

It was Washington's eighth consecutive home opening victory.

"You felt like you were in a piranha fish tank," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We were getting quality scoring chances, without a doubt, but you can't trade chance for chance with a team like that."

Alex Ovechkin, back-to-back Hart Trophy winner, started the scoring 1:17 into the game.  Ovie took a long pass from Nicklas Backstrom, took Toronto's blue line, then used the defenseman as a screen as he flicked the puck glove-side past Vesa Toskala, who had a rough period and was replaced for the second period.

"It's unbelievable," said Toskala, replaced in net by Jonas Gustavsson at the start of the second period. "It seems everywhere they go, the puck is following them."

Mike Knuble scored mid-way through the period, and Brooks Laich scored his third goal of the campaign on a breakaway four and a half minutes later.

"It was a nice play by Juicy [Milan Jurcina].  He made a nice stretch pass and I was able to slip behind the D-man."

"It was nice to get a fancy one, so to say, for once."

Three more second period goals, two from Alexander Semin and one from Brendan Morrison, pushed the lead to 6-1.

Goalie Semyon Varlamov was outstanding in the first two frames.  He made several solid kick saves and held his own when the outcome was still in doubt.  He made 27 saves in the game, and was not faulted by couach Bruce Boudreau.

Defensive letdowns led to three unanswered Leafs goals, and had the Caps not killed a late penalty it could have gotten ugly.  Boudreau was satisfied with the performance, but wanted to use it as a teaching tool as well.

"I told the guys, it was a great win, it was a great start, but we have to learn to how win six-to-one... and not think we're going to win nine-to-one."

"Hopefully this was a cheap lesson for us."

Washington is off until Tuesday night, when they face the Flyers in Philadelphia at 7:00 pm.  Philly is off to a 2-0-0 start, beating Carolina 2-0 Friday night and New Jersey tonight 5-2.

01:17 Alex Ovechkin (3), Snap Shot. Assist: Backstrom, Semin
09:12 Power Play - Mike Knuble (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Clark, Ovechkin
13:53 Brooks Laich (3), Wrist Shot. Assist: Jurcina, Morrison

04:23 Lee Stempniak (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: White, Mitchell
05:27 Alexander Semin (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Erskine
10:42 Brendan Morrison (1), Backhand Shot. Assist: Green, Laich
16:02 Alexander Semin (2), Backhand Shot. Assist: Ovechkin, Backstrom

02:04 Alexei Ponikarovsky (2), Wrist Shot. Assist: Finger
05:18 Mikhail Grabovski (1), Tip-In. Assist: Schenn, Ponikarovsky
17:57 Niklas Hagman (1), Snap Shot. Assist: Grabovski, Kaberle

1. A. Semin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 2)
3. B. Laich - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)