WASHINGTON - Sometimes, you have to go backward before going forward, and the Washington Capitals fans who braved the snow warnings to come to MCI Center last night certainly hope forward progress will come soon.
It didn't, however, come in leaps and bounds last night.
Washington struggled offensively (managing just one shot in the first nine minutes of each period) and defensively as Philadelphia showed its superiority. The Flyers used goals by Mark Recchi (one goal, three assists), John LeClair (one goal, three assists), Michal Handzus and Kim Johnsson to beat the Caps and their rookie goaltender Rastislav Stana, 4-1.
It was Washington's third consecutive loss. The Caps, 14-29-5-2, next play in New York against the Rangers and Jagr on Wednesday night.
"They didn't get a result," said Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock, whose 25-11-10-5 team leads the Atlantic Division and is in a battle with Toronto and Ottawa for the Eastern Conference lead. "But I think, in a couple weeks, they'll be very difficult to play against because there will be no pressure on them and no expectations. Tonight, they came at us hard, knocked us off pucks, forced us to change some things."
And Washington coach Glen Hanlon was anything but displeased with his team's performance.
"I think that's the best I've seen the Caps play in the two years I've been here in terms of physical play," Hanlon said. "We did a good job, but their third goal was the turning point. They are a well-schooled team and we just couldn't get anything past the blue line after that."
Without Jagr beside him, Robert Lang, the NHL's leading point scorer, is searching for new chemistry with linemates who changed throughout the evening. Anson Carter, who came here in the Jagr deal and was playing his first game for Washington since being traded in 1997, was just looking to fit in. He played on the power play and shifted on several lines, including one that teamed him with Lang and Jeff Halpern.
"I was hoping to feel comfortable right away," Carter said. "The focus right now is to help these guys win. The fact that this team has been struggling is no excuse not to do well. We should all look at it as a challenge. We've got a job as individuals to compete."
But losing Jagr has been a big blow. He was a prime anchor on the team's fourth-rated power play and a familiar, dependable presence beside Lang most of this season.
Last night, Washington's power play did not score, going 0-for-5, and Lang did not have a point.
"It will take awhile to get the chemistry going," said forward Mike Grier, who scored Washington's goal with an individual effort in which he stole the puck and then scored against Flyers goalie Robert Esche. "But I think you're already seeing forward progress. ... Our five D played their hearts out tonight and we all stuck together."
Philadelphia 2 1 1 - 4
Washington 1 0 0 - 1
First period-1, Philadelphia, Recchi 18 (LeClair), 5:30. 2, Philadelphia, LeClair 13 (Handzus, Recchi), 8:24. 3, Washington, Grier 3, 17:56. Penalties-Witt, Was (cross-checking), 6:23; Brashear, Phi, triple minor (roughing), 8:33; Berry, Was (roughing), 8:33; Witt, Was (high-sticking), 9:53. Second period-4, Philadelphia, Handzus 11 (LeClair, Recchi), 6:23. Penalties-Brashear, Phi, major (fighting), 1:42; Peat, Was, major (fighting), 1:42; Brashear, Phi (tripping), 11:47. Third period-5, Philadelphia, Johnsson 5 (LeClair, Recchi), 10:36. Penalties-Roenick, Phi (slashing), 12:23; Verot, Was (slashing), 12:23; Fedoruk, Phi, minor-major-misconduct (instigator, fighting), 14:39; Verot, Was, major-misconduct (fighting), 14:39. Shots on goal-Philadelphia 8-5-9-22. Washington 8-3-2-13. Power-play opportunities-Philadelphia 0 of 1; Washington 0 of 5. Goalies-Philadelphia, Esche 15-6-4 (13 shots-12 saves). Washington, Stana 1-2-0 (22-18). A-15,363 (18,277). T-2:18.