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It should have been a open and shut game. The Capitals worked up a 3-0 lead. They were dominating the Atlanta Thrashers, who were without star player Ilya Kovalchuk (out with a broken foot), through the first half of the game. But it would take an empty netter to be the Caps' game winning goal as they let the Thrashers claw back into the game late. This should have been a story about how the Caps were back on track, instead it is about how a team stopped competing once they had the 3-0 lead.
"It's ridiculous," Caps' bench boss Bruce Boudreau said. "We just let up and let the other teams back into the game. It's very frustrating."
Alex Ovechkin continued his march to 50 goals in 50 games, a feat last done by Brett Hull in the '91-'92 season. Ovi has kept pace scoring goals 12 and 13 in the Caps' 12th game of the season. He also had an assist for his 8th multipoint game of the season (4 games in which he had 3 points). Brendan Morrison scored on the power play and Mike Knuble scored the eventual game winner when he score on the empty net.
The Caps came out playing really good hockey. They were dominating the play, drawing penalties and making the Thrashers pay for their infractions. Their power play looked much better scoring 2 goals in 5 chances. It seemed the Caps could do no wrong. But, they fell back into old habits. They stopped skating and stopped competing. Tyler Sloan took a lazy hooking penalty late in the second and the Thrashers found life with a power play goal to start the third period.
Atlanta would out hustle the Caps dominating them in the scoring chance column 15-3 in the third period. Semyon Varlamov, who had played a gem of a game to that point, was suddenly overwhelmed with what would end up being 20 shots on net in the final frame. He did the best he could keeping the score 3-1 but Atlanta just kept pushing. He made a stop on a penalty shot after Jim Slater was able to break out (although it didn't look as if he was quite in the clear), and made some stand-on-your-head saves in the third period.
"I wasn't happy [about our effort] for Varly," Boudreau sympathized with his goaltender. "He plays an outstanding game and ends up with three goals on him and [there was] nothing he could do. He kept us in the game in the third period."
The Thrashers were able to follow up their power play goal when Todd White caught the Caps' defense napping. He got behind the Caps' defense and beat Varlamov blocker side. Atlanta would pull the goaltender to try and tie the game up at 3, but Knuble scored on the empty net. Zach Bogosian would score his second goal as the clock struck 0:00 to make it a final 4-3.
Washington again lost their focus to allow a team they had all but beaten in the first half of the game to come back. If the Caps weren't able to score on the empty net the game would have been tied and gone into overtime. It is the same trouble they had a season ago, playing a full 60 minutes and keeping their foot on the gas pedal.
"I thought with about seven minutes to go in the second period we thought this was going to be easy," Boudreau said of his team's inability to finish the game. "And then we stopped skating and stopped playing and their crowd was out of it. But I knew once they got one goal, just like the last time, they would be flying ... we had a hard time getting it going after that."
Consider it a cheap lesson to learn, as the Caps do take the 2 points from a divisional foe and continue their winning streak stretching it to now 6 games. The Capitals have earned at least a point in 10 of the 12 games they have played this season. Mike Green stretches his point streak to seven games after he made a beautiful no look pass on Ovechkin's first goal. Dave Steckel was 72% on face offs. He ranks fourth in the league for face off wins with 61.5%. Nick Backstrom has been struggling on the face off dot, tonight he was a mortal 29% on draws.
- Tomas Fleischmann made his season debut for the Capitals after he was shelved for having a blood clot in his leg. His conditioning stint in the AHL with the Hershey Bears was short lived before he started tonight in Atlanta. He finished the night a -1, but had two great chances and had 3 shots on net.
- Eric Fehr sat this one out as he is ailing from a rib injury. Fehr had just returned to the line up after having successful shoulder surgery on both shoulders. He only has one goal in his six games this season.
- Of the 5 games that Varlamov has started, he has let in 3 or more goals in four of those games. In fact he has allowed 4 goals in three of his five starts. The only game in which Varly has played and shut out the opponent is when Jose Theodore suffered back spasms in the San Jose game and he came in relief.