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Rangers hand Caps first regulation loss of the season

Rangers hand Caps first regulation loss of the season

The Caps fell for the first time in regulation this season, losing 4-2 to the New York Rangers on Saturday.

How it happened: The Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Rangers were able to respond with four unanswered goals including two by rookie Jimmy Vesey. The turning point came in the second period when Washington failed to score on a double-minor assessed to Mika Zibanejad after he caught T.J. Oshie with a high-stick. The Caps were winning 2-1 at the time of the penalty. By the end of the period, they trailed 3-2.

What it means: The loss is the Capitals' first regulation loss of the season. Despite the impressive 3-1-1 start, the Caps have now gone 1-1-1 against Metropolitan Division foes.

A tale of two periods: Coming into Saturday's game, the Capitals had scored first in each of their four contests this season. Saturday proved no different as the Caps jumped out to a 2-0 lead despite being outshot in the first period 13-10. In the second period, the Caps clamped down on the shots allowing only five...but the Rangers scored on three of those shots to take the 3-2 lead.

RELATED: WHAT THE CAPS COMMUNITY MEANS TO 2 SPECIAL FANS

A star in the making: Vesey made headlines in the summer by not signing with the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him, electing instead to wait until he became a free agent. The list of teams interested in signing the Hobey Baker winner as the top player in the college ranks was a long one. On Saturday, Vesey showed why with two goals. His first goal was a simple tap-in thanks to a great pass by Rick Nash. His second goal, however, came on a strong drive to the net, physically keeping Karl Alzner off the puck while neatly tucking the puck between the five-hole of Braden Holtby. That was a goal-scorer's goal and certainly did not look like a young rookie straight out of college.

A disturbing trend: For the second time in as many games, the Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period only to watch that lead evaporate. On Thursday against the Florida Panthers, the Caps held a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period. They then were out-shot 14-4 in the second allowing the Panthers to tie the game at 2. On Saturday, Washington again jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see the Rangers tie it in the second period. This time, however, Washington was not able to recover and ended up taking the loss.

First of many? The third line looked like it was starting to gel in Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers and that continued on Saturday as Lars Eller recorded his first goal as a Cap. Brooks Orpik held the puck near the blue line and wristed a hopeful shot. Eller stood in the high-slot and got his stick down to deflect into the back of the net.

Favorite target: There's just something about the New York Rangers. With his first period goal, Ovehckin has now scored a goal in 10 of his last 11 games against the Blueshirts. In addition, Ovechkin has scored more goals (21) against Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist than against any other goalie in his career.

Look ahead: Time for the Caps to pack their bags as they skip town for a four-game road trip that will take them across western Canada, their second-longest road trip of the season. Their first game comes on Wednesday against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. The Caps will not return to Verizon Center until Nov. 3 when they host the Winnipeg Jets.

MORE CAPITALS: DEFLECTION GIVES ELLER HIS FIRST GOAL AS A CAP

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

If you had to boil down the playoff history of the Washinton Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins into one game, Game 1 certainly seemed to fit the bill.

The Capitals had their chances, they got good performances from star players and all of it came to naught as they were once again foiled by the Penguins in a 3-2 loss.

Here's Washington let this game slip away.

3 Reasons Why the Capitals lost Game 1 to the Penguins:

1. Missed chances

The Caps were buzzing in the first period.

Already up 1-0, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin had an opportunity to add a second goal early on a 2-on-1. Orlov faked the shot then passed to Ovechkin who had a wide open net to shoot at…but he missed. Ovechkin doesn’t miss too many of those shots. Despite how good the Caps looked in the first period, they got only six pucks through to goalie Matt Murray and took only a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. In the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly was denied an empty net rebound by Murray (more on that later). We all knew the push was coming. We’ve seen this all play out before.

Simply put, Washington did not convert on its opportunities when they had control of the game. A two-goal cushion was not enough to take the wind out of Pittsburgh's sails nor was it enough to survive the three-goal flurry that was to come.

2. A five-minute snowball in the third period

When the push finally came, it came fast.

In a stretch that lasted for less than five minutes, Pittsburgh scored three times to turn a 2-0 Caps lead into a 3-2 deficit. Patrick Hornqvist deflected in a shot from Justin Schultz at 2:59, Sidney Crosby netted a pass from Jake Guentzel at 5:20 and Guentzel got a deflection goal of his own at 7:48. That is a span of 4:49. Pittsburgh’s momentum snowballed into three quick goals which carried them to the win.

Braden Holtby was brilliant for 55:11, but those 4:49 were enough to doom the Caps.

3. Matt Murray

As good as Holtby was, Murray was better. Despite allowing a goal just 17 seconds in, he recovered very well in what was a 32-save performance. You can put some of this game on Washington’s inability to convert on its chances, but you also have to give credit to the Penguins’ netminder as well who came up with some big-time saves to keep his team in it. The biggest was in the second period when he extended the arm and blocked what looked like an easy goal for Smith-Pelly with the glove of his blocker.

As hard as it was to beat Murray when the Caps were ahead, he was unbeatable when his team finally gave him a lead to work with.

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