Canadiens edge Capitals in shootout

Canadiens edge Capitals in shootout
February 2, 2011, 3:16 am
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011 11:29 p.m.

By Mark Zuckerman

It all started out so well. The Washington Capitals opened the second half of their season Tuesday night with an early charge that left the Montreal Canadiens dazed and the crowd at Verizon Center ecstatic.

They were aggressive. They controlled the puck. They put all kinds of pressure on the Canadiens' defense. They even managed to score on the power play, a rarity indeed for that snakebitten unit.

By the end of the night, it was all forgotten. An early two-goal lead was squandered, and after a furious overtime charge, the Capitals lost yet again in a shootout, falling 3-2 to Montreal.

Washington managed to secure one point, but that meant little after Tampa Bay routed Philadelphia 4-0 to extend its lead in the Southeast Division to five points.

"At this time of the year, we can't afford to just be good for 20 minutes," center Mathieu Perreault said. "It's got to be 60 minutes. The playoffs are coming up, and those are points we need if we want to get a good spot for the playoffs. We've got to step up and play for 60 minutes."

Try as they might to put together a complete game, the Caps continue to have all sorts of trouble following through with that. And because of that inconsistency within individual games, they've now lost three straight and seven of 10.

Players are all too aware of the manner in which they've been letting momentum slip away during the course of a game.

"You can sense it," defenseman Mike Green said. "We have to keep pushing like we do. I think at times we hang back so much that we're not getting the offensive opportunities we need to win games. Until we can change that, we're going to be tying games and going to overtime a lot."

And the last place the Capitals want to be right now is in overtime. Tuesday represented their eighth consecutive overtime or shootout loss, a staggering streak of failure post-regulation that has just about everyone baffled.

Each team had chances to win in the extra period -- the Caps fired off five shots in five minutes, including a flurry in front of the net as time expired -- but neither side could slip one through. Montreal quickly seized control in the shootout when Brian Gionta (who had already scored twice in the second period) got Semyon Varlamov off his feet and slipped a backhand into the net.

Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin all were denied for the Capitals, with Ovechkin finding the post on his last-ditch attempt to prolong the shootout.

"We had three great looks," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Nicky has him beat, I think Hendy had him beat and I think Alex had him beat. But we didn't keep the puck in the spots where we wanted them to get."

Had the Caps been able to sustain the energy and pressure they brought forth during the game's first eight minutes, when both Perreault and Mike Knuble scored to open a 2-0 lead, they might well have put this one out of reach for the Canadiens.

Instead, they committed a couple of defensive gaffes during the second period, opening the door for Gionta to score twice in a span of nine minutes and tie the game up. From that point on, Montreal was in control, Washington's players simply trying not to commit another mistake that would prevent them from notching at least one point.

"We kind of sat back," Perreault said. "When they tied the game, we kind of felt like we were playing for the tie instead of trying to win in regulation. We've got to start playing for 60 minutes."