Two mistakes create 2-1 loss for Capitals

Defensive lapses costly vs. Panthers, Luongo

January 08, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals have gone beyond feeling as if they're walking a tightrope on ice skates. Last night, they played with the sense of urgency necessary to climb from three games below .500 and into the playoffs.

But the Caps got precious little for it, as Washington lost to the Florida Panthers, 2-1.

The Capitals made two - just two - costly mistakes, and that was the difference. And even those two blown coverages by the team's top line of Adam Oates, Jaromir Jagr, Dmitri Khristich, Joe Reekie and Sergei Gonchar that allowed goals by Ivan Novoseltsev and Pavel Bure might have been overcome if not for a stone-wall like performance by Florida goalie Roberto Luongo.

Luongo made 38 saves to hand the Caps their third straight loss. The Caps (16-20-7) face Columbus here at the MCI Center tomorrow night, Toronto here Friday and then go to Florida on Saturday for another meeting with the Panthers.

"If we play like that, we're going to win games," said Caps goalie Craig Billington, who made 16 saves starting in place of No. 1 Olie Kolzig. "But because of the reality of where we are in this season, these kind of games hurt us. We're not seven or eight games over .500. We have little room for error."

There is an urgency now. Billington saw it in his teammates and Washington coach Ron Wilson said, "Our guys gave a great effort."

The only real disappointment, Wilson said, was the team's power play. No. 2 in the league, the Caps went 0-for-5 last night.

The Caps were forced to play what might be called defense-lite. They were without defenseman Calle Johansson (rotator cuff surgery, out for the season); defensive forward Steve Konowalchuk (shoulder surgery, out until March); defensive forward Ulf Dahlen (bruised foot, day-to-day), also the Caps' leading scorer until being sidelined Dec. 21; and veteran defenseman Brendan Witt (sprained thumb, out for from one to three weeks). Still, the Caps played well defensively.

But when Oates faced an open net late in the third period for a goal that would have tied the score, Olli Jokinen came up behind him and lifted his stick to throw off the shot. And when Peter Bondra rushed in on Luongo on a breakaway, the goalie got the job done.

"Bondra tried to go to the five hole and I closed it down," Luongo said. "It's not my strength, but I'm getting better at it."

NOTE: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was at the game last night. In a pre-game meeting with the media, he said: "We're going to have a great [Olympics]. We had a great tournament in 1998. More people watched hockey than ever before. Now, with the Olympics here in North America, with the games on TV at a time when people can watch, it will be great exposure for the game."

He also said the NHL "does not feel threatened" by NBA's new broadcast agreement with ESPN. "They've told us consistently that they believe in hockey," he said.

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