PHILADELPHIA - The Washington Capitals, who have prided themselves on defense for at least two decades, came into last night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers ranked No. 29 among 30 teams in goals-against average. They came in off one of the most humiliating losses in team history, giving up 11 goals in a loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
They came in hoping to show the Flyers and themselves that they could rebound from such ignoble performances.
Instead, the Flyers played the Capitals as if they were a cheap pinball machine in a penny arcade and dealt Washington its seventh loss in nine games, 5-0. It was the fourth time Washington has been shut out this season.
"We tried to play more defensive hockey and win, 1-0," said Caps right wing Jaromir Jagr. "But first five minutes we're down 3-0. It's tough to come back. I have no words. I feel we are fighting ourselves as well as the other team."
The victory improved the Flyers' record to 9-6-3, while the Caps dropped to 6-11-2, with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks coming to MCI Center tomorrow night.
Drop in the coin, start the game. Tap the puck. See the goal light flash. Forty-four seconds was all it took for Keith Primeau to score. He was wide-open in front of the crease, while Sylvain Cote, Jagr, Rob Zettler, Andrei Nikolishin and Peter Bondra, the team's most veteran line, were occupied elsewhere.
Reset the machine. The Caps leading scorer, Bondra, who is also their leader in penalty minutes, is called for high-sticking, and just 94 seconds after the Flyers' first goal, Jiri Dopita scores on the power play by lofting the puck over goalie Olie Kolzig.
Reset the machine. This time, put the Caps on a power play. The result is the same. Ten seconds after the Flyers had taken a 2-0 lead, they are up three goals with 3:40 gone on a short-handed goal by Mark Recchi.
"A large topic of conversation before the game was about them struggling defensively," said Primeau. "We wanted to jump on them right away, and we were able to do that."
For Washington, it seems to have turned into a season of diminishing returns, as the goals-against average has climbed to 3.02 (only Atlanta's 3.73 is worse).
"We're just missing coverages," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "It's hard to explain. After we got past the first five minutes, we buckled down, created some scoring chances. It's just some defensive mistakes right now. It's obvious we're missing guys."
Everyone has heard the excuses - the injury woes. But the Caps shift into a reverse gear goes beyond the absence of defenseman Calle Johansson (rotator cuff surgery), Ken Klee (ribs), Sergei Gonchar (family funeral) and left wing Steve Konowalchuk (shoulder surgery).
As in Tuesday's 11-5 loss to Ottawa, the Caps began a game unprepared for the opposition's opening attack.
The team's veteran defensemen were left in the ice shavings of flying skates.
"It's trust and expectation," said Cote. "The goalie has to be able to trust us to take care of the rebound. Olie made all the first stops, and we have to get the rebounds out. We also have to expect the forwards to do more offensively."