SUNRISE, Fla. They can talk about a lack of emotion. They can talk about a phone call to Toronto that went the wrong way. They can talk about a power play that has gone south.
But if you get right down to it, the Capitals lost to the Florida Panthers 4-2 Wednesday night, falling from third in the Eastern Conference standings to ninth, because goaltender Michal Neuvirth simply wasnt good enough.
In a game and in a building that seemed to scream for Tomas Vokoun to start his second straight game, Capitals coach Dale Hunter turned to Neuvirth and the 23-year-old goalie failed to deliver.
Mikael Samuelsson scored a pair of goals one of them from 88 feet away to give the Panthers a win and allow them to re-take first place in the Southeast Division standings with 57 points, one more than the Capitals, who dropped from third place in the Eastern Conference standings to ninth
It's frustrating, said Brooks Laich, who scored his 10th goal of the season. This game could have been a catapult to shoot us off in the second half. Instead we're back chasing again. The lack of success on the road, it's not acceptable. Im sick and tired of losing on the road.
The Capitals are now 8-14-3 on the road this season, third-worst in the East. And they failed to bring any kind of a snarl to Sunrise.
We should create our own energy because its such a big game and we didnt do a good enough job doing it, defenseman Karl Alzner said. I am (surprised). Some teams are real easy to get up for the Canadiens, the Rangers theyre really easy. Sometimes here in Florida its difficult to get up.
That will need to change if the Capitals hope to get into the post-season, let alone win a few rounds. So will the kind of goaltending they received Wednesday night.
Hunters decision to go with Neuvirth didnt look like a good one 33 seconds into the second period when Samuelssons wrist shot from just inside the red line sailed past Neuvirths stick side and into the left corner of the net.
I thought he was going to rim it (around the boards), Neuvirth said. I was cheating a little bit and he caught me. I left the post and I couldnt get back in time.
Everybody knows Neuvy would want it back, Hunter said. You dont want to give up them. It gives the other team energy. But it happens with goalies, they let long ones in.
Laich said Samuelssons goal happened early enough in the game for the Capitals to recover and with his help, they did.
When was the last time you saw that? Laich asked. Five years ago? Freak things like that are going to happen in a hockey game.
Laich tied it up with a strong individual effort, working his way past Erik Gudbranson and Samuelsson to rip a shot just under the right crossbar.
The game turned early in the third period when both teams were slapped with goalie interference penalties. The Panthers scored on their power play; the Capitals didnt.
It all started 4:07 into the period when Matt Hendricks drove hard to the Panthers net, but lifted his left leg high enough to clip Florida goaltender Scott Clemmenson in the head, knocking off his mask.
The Panthers scored on the ensuing power play when Samuelsson snapped a long wrist shot past Laich and past Neuvirth. It was the second questionable goal of the night for Neuvirth, who was making his first start since Jan. 22 and just his third start in 17 games.
The Panthers made it 3-1 at the 9:52 mark on a controversial goal that was overturned in the NHL war room in Toronto.
Weiss drove hard to the net and when he and Neuvirth both jabbed at a loose puck in the crease, the puck popped in the air, off Weiss shoulder and into the net behind Neuvirth.
Referee Dennis LaRue originally waved off the goal, saying he thought Weiss punched the puck into the net. But when replays showed the puck bounced off Weiss shoulder LaRue was over-ruled.
It was a bad break for the Capitals, who drew within 3-2 on a goal by John Carlson with 2:21 remaining in regulation. But any life Carlson gave the Caps was taken away when Shawn Matthias found the back of an empty net with 52.8 seconds left.