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Capitals 3, Lightning 1 // Lightning falls short

Before Rick Tabaracci arrived, it was goaltending. With Rudy Poeschek hurt and Brantt Myhres not yet here, it was toughness. And for the longest time, it was the power play.

What more could go wrong?

Try penalty killing.

That seems to be the latest malady for the tough-luck Lightning, loser of its past four after falling 3-1 to the Capitals in front of 17,536 Monday night at the Ice Palace.

Tampa Bay should look in large part to a power-play goal by Joe Juneau, one that gave Washington a two-goal cushion late in the opening period. It was the third power-play goal in two games against the Lightning, which hadn't allowed any in the previous six but now is playing without injured penalty-killing specialists Mikael Andersson and Shawn Burr.

"The guys killing now are doing a good job," Lightning rookie Daymond Langkow said, mentioning regular penalty-killer Patrick Poulin and Brian Bradley, the team's leading scorer each of the past four seasons who has been pressed into penalty-killing service.

"But you have to realize, the ones who are doing that now are scorers, too, so it means they're logging a lot of ice time, too."

Lightning center Chris Gratton, though, cautioned against being shortsighted in pinpointing short-handed play as Tampa Bay's sole cause of woe.

"That's an excuse," Gratton said. "Obviously those (out injured) are two important players, but the guys we have, have to step up. Just because a couple of guys normally out there are out can't be used as an excuse."

But not having Andersson and Burr certainly was a factor, and that _ combined with an Ottawa victory over Montreal _ has Tampa Bay again alone in last place in the NHL standings.

Peter Bondra gave the Caps an early lead, finishing a two-on-one after Jason Allison deked his way around defenseman Cory Cross less than five minutes into the game.

It was the 15th goal in 18 games against the Lightning for Bondra, who led the NHL in goals two seasons ago and has 16 this season.

Kelly Miller made Washington's lead 3-0 with a tic-tac-toe tip-in goal late in the second, and Langkow, thanks to a set-up pass from Gratton, answered 24 seconds later with his second goal in as many games.

Langkow had a great chance for a second goal midway through the third period, but Caps goalie Jim Carey made one of his 23 saves en route to going 6-2-2 lifetime against the Lightning.

The Lightning had other chances as well, including a goal post hit by Paul Brousseau in the opening period and a Bradley backhander in the third.

But besides Langkow's goal, Tampa Bay had no real response to the backbreaker by Juneau, who scored at 17:16 of the first with defenseman Craig Wolanin in the penalty box for cross-checking.

"They're a pretty tight defensive team," said Lightning rookie Allan Egeland, pressed into penalty-killing service after being called up from the minors last week. "We kept coming at them all game. We worked hard for 60 minutes, but we had a couple of breakdowns, and they took advantage, and that's all that happened."

The biggest break came when Juneau tipped a deflected Sylvain Cote slap shot past Tabaracci, who was playing in his ninth straight game.

Go figure.

Tampa Bay's penalty killers have been a last bastion throughout most of this mostly miserable season, the saving grace on a team that at one time or another has seen virtually every other major facet of its game in disarray.

Now, with neither Andersson (partly dislocated shoulder) nor Burr (severe finger laceration) around to mask inadequacies elsewhere, a susceptible defense becomes ever-so-exposed when Tampa Bay is playing short-handed.

"It's not just one or two guys," Egeland said. "When key guys are out like that, all 20 have to step up."

KEY STATS

Lightning Capitals

Goals 1 3

Shots 24 34

Penalty minutes 12 6

Power play 0-2 1-5

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