Penguins sap Caps for 2nd night, 3-0 Punchless Washington is decked by Wregget


PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals hadn't seen Mario Lemieux since the playoffs two years ago and they could have done without seeing him last night.

But it really wasn't Lemieux who did in Washington, though his power-play goal with 9:36 gone in the second period more or less assured Pittsburgh's 3-0 victory.

The Penguins got out front early on rookie Joe Dziedzic's goal. Bryan Smolinski scored in the second to make it 2-0 and then Lemieux clocked in.

With their defense still playing well, the Caps' only real problem was that they could not hit the Pittsburgh net.

By the time the third period started, the only real question remaining was whether Penguins goalie Ken Wregget would hold on to the shutout and give the sellout crowd of 17,181 at the Civic Arena something more to cheer for.

He did, handing Washington its first shutout since Feb. 20.

Without leading scorer Peter Bondra and power-play technician Pat Peake, who are both out with injuries for at least another

week, the Capitals are punchless.

Last night, Capitals goalie Jim Carey made 23 saves, but it wouldn't have mattered if he had made 100. The Capitals could not score, as Wregget (32 saves) improved his league-leading .926 save percentage with his first shutout since a 3-0 blanking of Quebec on Jan. 27, 1994.

And Washington was 0-for-8 on the power play, marking the eighth time in their last 10 games that they have failed to score on the man advantage.

The team that started the season as one of the hottest in the NHL with an 8-3 record is now 9-9-1 and winless in its last six games.

To add injury to insult, the Caps lost rookie Stefan Ustorf, the only offensive player who has scored in the last five games, with a concussion early in the first period.

Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld said he didn't want to change much going into last night's game against the Penguins. This team, he had said Friday night after a 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, had played well. The plan, then, was to play another strong defensive game and try to get someone going offensively.

Washington began by executing defensively, but never did get the offensive hang of this game.

Mark Tinordi, whose status appeared iffy after straining his back Friday, was in the starting lineup and did his share, but it was rough going for Washington.

Seven minutes into the game, Ustorf took the big body hit from the Penguins' Francois Leroux that sidelined him.

By that time, the Caps already were playing without their second-leading scorer Joe Juneau, who was benched for the final 14 minutes of the period. The Caps were called for too many men on the ice, and Juneau, who seemed to be the extra man, served the penalty. When he came out of the box, he went directly to the bench and did not return until the second period.

Juneau has 12 points, one goal scored in the opening game of the season, and 11 assists. But he has not had a point since the Nov. 10 game in Toronto.

The Capitals continued, for the most part, to play sound defense, but -- and lately there always seems to be a but -- with 6:39 to play rookie Dziedzic got past Keith Jones and scored his first goal. Washington, try as it would, could not get its offense on track.

Three power-play opportunities went unrewarded. And with 2:18 left in the first period, the "special team," which was 4 for its last 64 opportunities, demonstrated just how powerless it is, when it had a full two minutes of 5-on-3 play and not only didn't score but didn't give Wregget even one nervous moment.

Juneau returned to take the opening faceoff at the start of the second period, but it didn't help the Caps much. Nothing did.

With 14:10 to play in the middle period, Brendan Witt was giving a pretty good demonstration of one-on-one defense on Jaromir Jagr. Unfortunately, too many Capitals were caught watching, as Jagr passed to Ron Francis in the slot. Francis fired at the net where Bryan Smolinski tapped it home.

It got worse for the Capitals with 10:24 left. That's when Jagr handed off to Lemieux, who eluded Kelly Miller and fought off Mike Eagles for a backhand goal.

BTC Lemieux experienced just one nerve-racking moment in the second period, when he trailed Tomas Sandstrom into the crease and got upended by Carey's stick and fell hard into the goal post. Lemieux, who has had recurring back problems for

years, continued to play, apparently unharmed.

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