WASHINGTON - After back-to-back days of embarrassing stories off the ice and injuries piling up on it, it might have appeared the Washington Capitals were about to disintegrate.
For one night, at least, that's what happened as the Capitals slowly lost control in a miserable game that wound up as a 3-1 Los Angeles victory.
The Washington loss combined with Tampa Bay's victory in Buffalo last night, moved the Lightning into the Southeast Division lead. By losing the division lead and its automatic third-place seed, Washington dropped to sixth in the Eastern Conference. With 79 points, it is just one point behind the Lightning, but it is also just six points ahead of the eighth-place New York Islanders, with a game against Colorado here tomorrow evening before heading off on a six-game road trip across Canada.
Off the ice, reports the team's star player Jaromir Jagr had run up $500,000 in gambling debts (now settled) were followed by reports Jagr owes the IRS $3.3 million in taxes. Those stories were followed by one in the Washington Post yesterday that said Caps head coach Bruce Cassidy had recently resolved a paternity suit in Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, on the ice, the Capitals were playing the Kings without two-thirds of their top line with Jagr, their leading scorer out with a broken bone in his wrist, and winger Kip Miller, out with an upper-body injury. The Caps also were without Brendan Witt, one of their top four defensemen, who was injured against Philadelphia on Monday.
"Those stories might have affected some individuals - myself being one of them - but not the players," said Cassidy. "Maybe we just thought it was going to be an easy game and there are no easy games."
The Capitals started badly but had a momentary lead on a goal by their newest member, Sergei Berezin, who was acquired this week from Chicago. But Los Angeles, with goalie Cristobal Huet making 21 saves in his first NHL start, answered with three straight goals by Sean Avery and Alexander Frolov (two goals) for the knockout.
The loss ended an eight-game point streak for Washington.
"I don't think the stories about Salt Lake [the Cassidy story] or off-shore gambling [Jagr] had anything to do with tonight," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig, who made 29 stops including a series of eight saves while L.A. had a two-man advantage.
"And if it did, guys need to get tougher. There is going to be adversity in the playoffs, and the playoffs are not a given if we keep playing like this.
"It's games like this that come back to haunt you. We've shown we can be a great hockey team when we put our mind to it, but we've let games waste away all season and it won't be a long playoff for us if we don't stop playing like this. We were just outworked tonight."
Los Angeles 1 1 1 - 3
Washington 1 0 0 - 1
First period - 1, Washington, Berezin 19 (Lang, Zubrus), 17:05. 2, Los Angeles, Avery 6 (Norstrom, Sim), 19:58. Penalties - Rasmussen, LA (holding stick), 12:37; Bondra, Was (high-sticking), 13:08. Second period - 3, Los Angeles, Frolov 12 (Palffy), 19:05. Penalties - Los Angeles bench, served by Flinn (too many men), 7:44; Klee, Was (holding), 11:22; Doig, Was (delay of game), 11:30; Klee, Was (cross-checking), 15:03; Visnovsky, LA (hooking), 15:56; Norstrom, LA (tripping), 19:54. Third period - 4, Los Angeles, Frolov 13 (Palffy), 14:40. Penalties - Laperriere, LA, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 15:36; Doig, Was, major (fighting), 15:36. Shots on goal - Los Angeles 9-16-7-32. Washington 7-9-6-22. Power-play opportunities - Los Angeles 0 of 4; Washington 0 of 5. Goalies - Los Angeles, Huet 2-0-0 (22 shots-21 saves). Washington, Kolzig 28-22-6 (32-29). A - 17,308 (18,277). T-2:21.