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Two Quick Second Period Goals Doom Capitals To Loss


WASHINGTON – Braden Holtby skated back and forth, trying to stretch his legs and escape his blunders during a break. He headed to his right, to the faceoff circle, and took a knee, then returned to his net moments later, tapped the left pipe with his stick and dug his skates into the crease before play resumed.

The Washington Capitals’ goaltender needed a break midway through the second period against Pittsburgh, perhaps something to go his way. Now, after yet another loss, his team could desperately use that as well.

Chris Kunitz had a hat trick, Sidney Crosby added three assists and the Penguins, the leaders in the Atlantic Division, soundly defeated Washington 6-3 at the Verizon Center on Sunday.

“I think the biggest thing is just our mental game right now isn’t strong enough,” said Holtby, who had 20 saves. “We’re playing a good team game. It’s just those little breakdowns … the little things that we have to prepare for before the game that are huge in winning games.”

The Capitals and Penguins are no stranger to legendary battles on the day of the Super Bowl. Their game in 2010 was played at the height a rivalry born on the backs of Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, with the Capitals recovering from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime and extend their winning streak to 14 games.

Merely winning would be now be a blessing for the Capitals (2-6-1), who continue to struggle despite professing a knowledge and understanding of new head coach Adam Oates’ style of play.

Their spirited first period – one in which defenseman Mike Green answered Pittsburgh’s first goal with one of his own not even 90 seconds later, but then fell behind again three minutes after that – was frenetic and frantic and downright exciting.

And while the second period began with a fluke goal by John Carlson – one in which the defenseman tried to dump the puck by flipping it off the glass, only to see it carom off a stanchion and past Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun – Pittsburgh (6-3) flexed its muscles. Kris Letang and Kunitz scored a pair of goals 37 seconds apart, pushing the Penguins to a 4-2 advantage from which the Capitals seemed unlikely to recover.

“We got a good power play – I thought we worked it around, had some good opportunities, a couple close chances there – and then we get scored on twice in I think was close to a minute,” said winger Troy Brouwer. “We had all the momentum. We had the crowd into it. The guys were into it, we were feeling good and then we get scored on, two quick goals, and it’s tough. Then they scored a power play goal shortly thereafter.”

That goal, by Kunitz, caught the Capitals at a low point. Already down a man with Wojtek Wolski in the box for tripping, defenseman Karl Alzner was left to defend Evgeni Malkin with a broken stick. Malkin, without pressure, sent the puck across the ice to Kunitz, who beat Holtby gloveside.

Mike Ribeiro scored a power play goal 3:33 into the third period to pull within two, but Vokoun, traded by the Capitals to Pittsburgh in June after one season, allowed nothing else and finished with 21 saves. A five-on-three caused by concurrent penalties to Carlson and Ovechkin with 1:32 left led to Kunitz’s final, celebration-inducing goal.

Holtby, who had 19 saves on a 3-2 home win against Philadelphia on Friday, was nearly pulled after the fourth goal because of his struggles. Oates considered Michal Neuvirth, who started the Capitals’ other five games this year, but stuck with Holtby because of his postseason success a year ago.

Even with the short season – the Capitals will pass the quarter point of the schedule in a week – Oates maintains he’s not concerned about the victories or the players’ confidence. He said he’s more focused on the team’s overall development, which he believes is progressing.

“You know, in the course of a whole season, there’s going to be nights where it happens and nights it doesn’t,” Oates said. “I’m focused on the way we’re playing as a group. I think big picture, I think that’s more important.”


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