Penguins deal Capitals third loss in row, 3-2 HOCKEY


PITTSBURGH -- For three minutes midway through the third period, the Washington Capitals tried everything they could think of to avoid a third straight loss.

Steve Konowalchuk and Dimitri Khristich shot directly in front of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso.

Michal Pivonka shot from the slot.

Peter Bondra shot from the right circle.

Barrasso stopped them all, and won, 3-2, as Washington's frustration over a lack of offense mounted.

Washington coach Terry Murray kept his team behind locked doors for 10 minutes after this game. What he said, he said he wanted kept there.

But the subjects seemed obvious. After jumping to a 1-0 lead on rookie Pat Peake's first NHL goal, and seeing goaltender Rick Tabaracci turn in the beginnings of what would be an excellent game in net, the Capitals began going away from what got them there.

"We disappoint ourselves," said Murray. "We start cheating ourselves, by not playing the full 60 minutes."

Of course, there were complications. The biggest one was Jaromir Jagr, who had only one point last night -- an assist on what turned out to be the winning goal by Kjell Samuelsson -- but he virtually controlled how this game went.

Jagr was everywhere. The Capitals continued to run him off the attack, but the right wing is so big and strong, he simply carried defensemen like Al Iafrate and Kevin Hatcher along with him, thereby taking the Capitals away from their game plan.

"I saw him bumped at least six times on one play and he kept coming," said Tabaracci, who had 31 saves, but was saddled with his third straight loss. "It's tough right now. We know we can win, but we're not scoring and I don't know what we can do to snap out of it."

It was one more night when defense wasn't enough.

The Capitals now have scored three goals in nine periods, and carry a three-game losing streak to Miami, where they will take on the expansion Florida Panthers tomorrow night.

It was Penguin Martin Straka, scoring his 10th goal of the season, who gave Pittsburgh some room at 3-1 with 8:42 to play in the final period.

The goal came after left wing Doug Brown tried a wrap-around, which Tabaracci partially blocked. The puck came out to Straka, who put it in the back of Washington's net.

At the outset, it became apparent that coaches can change their minds in an instant. Only the day before, Murray said he would keep struggling center Pivonka on the fourth line, in order to give rookie Peake a chance to prove himself.

But last night, Pivonka showed up on a second line with Khristich and Bondra, and Peake was on the third line with Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley.

And in its way, it worked.

Peake got his first NHL goal with 11:40 to play in the first period to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

"It was nice to get the first goal," Peake said. "But we only played 10 minutes of hockey. It's so unfortunate. We have guys like Rick standing on his head for us and we can't score. We've got to get going."

The part of the experiment that didn't see results was the part that included Pivonka, who still is searching for his second goal of the season.

Washington's lead lasted until there was just 2:29 left in the first period. That's when Larry Murphy was finally able to do what Jagr, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen and even he had been unable to do even at point-blank range -- beat Tabaracci.

"We've got to get back to doing the little things," said Capitals forward Randy Burridge. "If we don't do the little things -- make the little passes, put the puck on net -- we're not going to get the results we want."

Washington 1 0 1 -- 2

Pittsburgh 1 1 1 -- 3

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