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Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps drop second at home to Penguins

Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps drop second at home to Penguins

Final score: Washington Capitals 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 6

How it happened: The Caps thoroughly domianted the first period in just about every category, but were unable to get a goal past Marc-Andre Fleury through the first 20 minutes. Matt Cullen opened the scoring with a shorthanded breakaway in the second period, but Matt Niskanen scored on the same penalty to tie it at 1. Then things went off the rails.

Sidney Crosby tallied two pretty assists to set up the Penguins' next two goals — one from Phil Kessel, another from Jake Guentzel — as they took a 3-1 lead after the second period. Philipp Grubauer came on in relief of Braden Holtby to start the third period, but it made little difference as Kessel scored his second of the night just 2:19 into the third. Nicklas Backstrom scored soon after to keep the Caps somewhat in the game, but Evgeni Malkin added another Pittsburgh tally to increase the lead to three again.

What it means: The Caps now find themselves in a massive hole after dropping both of their games in Washington. Not only are they down 2-0, the series now shifts to Pittsburgh for two games where they have not won a game all season. Teams that lose the first two games at home to start a series have an all-time record of 18-69.

Goals

Penguins goal: Matt Cullen (shorthanded) at 1:15 in the 2nd. Kevin Shattenkirk fired a shot from the point that was blocked by Cullen. The puck trickled to the neutral zone with both Shattenkirk and Cullen fighting for position. Cullen won that battle, chipping the puck past Shattenkirk for the breakaway. Despite getting hooked by Shattenkirk, Cullen was able to tuck the puck through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. Caps 0, Penguins 1

Caps goal: Matt Niskanen (power play) from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin at 2:09 in the 2nd. The Caps entered the offensive zone and went to the corner where all four penalty killers followed. Niskanen saw a wide open net in front of him and snuck into the slot. Once Backstrom won the puck out of the corner, he passed back to Ovechkin who immediately passed to Niskanen for the wide-open one-timer. Caps 1, Penguins 1

Penguins goal: Phil Kessel from Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel at 13:04 in the 2nd. Guentzel made a neutral zone pass to a streaking Crosby that came in a bit behind him so Crosby used his stick to tap the puck between his own legs to gain possession. As the Caps collapsed on him, he passed to an open Kessel who roofed the shot past Holtby. Caps 1, Penguins 2

Penguins goal: Jake Guentzel from Sidney Crosby at 16:14 in the 2nd. A Justin Williams shot was blocked by Crosby who then dove to tap the puck to Guentzel for the breakout and the 2-on-1. Guentzel skated in and called his own number firing a wrister that beat Holtby cleanly. Caps 1, Penguins 3

Penguins goal: Phil Kessel (power play) from Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin at 2:19 in the 3rd. The Penguins cycled the puck on the power play until Kessel decided to fire a shot from the faceoff circle that snuck in underneath the pads of Grubauer and in. Caps 1, Penguins 4

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie at 3:44 in the 3rd. The Caps broke into the Penguins' zone on the odd-man rush. Ovechkin's initial shot was saved by Fleury, but Backstrom crashed the net for the open rebound. Caps 2, Penguins 4

Penguins goal: Evgeni Malkin from Phil Kessel and Ian Cole at 5:31 in the 3rd. A wrister from the point from Cole deflected took a couple of deflection before hitting off the stick of Malkin and into the net. It was originaly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie, but it was called a good goal for Malkin after a coach's challenge as the contact occurred well before the goal. Caps 2, Penguins 5

Penguins goal: Jake Guentzel (empty net) from Matt Cullen finished off the Caps with 43 seconds left.  Caps 2, Penguins 6

3 Caps stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom: Backstrom assisted Niskanen's goal for the quick response to make it 1-1. He then added a goal of his own to make the score 4-2 and at least give some hope that the Caps would be able to make a third period comeback.

2. Matt Niskanen: That was a heads up play by Niskanen to realize the penalty killersr were all in the corner. He was up very high in the offensive zone, but with no defenders in the same stratosphere as him, it was the right call and it lead to a goal.

3. Lars Eller: The third line was the Caps' best in the first period. Eller also won 10 of the 12 faceoffs he took for the game.

Look ahead: The series now shifts to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday. Game 5 will be in Washington on Saturday if it is necessary.

MORE CAPITALS: BRADEN HOLTBY BENCHED

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (33-18-7) take on the Sabres (17-31-11) Monday, February 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Buffalo.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 7:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals at Sabres
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
7:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Sabres game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-SABRES OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.