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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

4 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

The Caps looked like they had Thursday’s game in hand, but the Montreal Canadiens scored three goals late in the third period to stun Washington 6-4.

Here are four reasons why the Caps lost:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s first NHL goal

The No. 3 overall draft pick of the 2018 draft, Kotkaniemi showed how talented he was just by making Montreal’s roster in his first season with the organization. But he had to wait until his 12th career game to finally dent the twine.

Unfortunately, his first goal came against Braden Holtby and the Caps.

Kotkaniemi came down the left side of the ice on the rush. When he got the puck, Holtby looked to be in good position and square to the puck. There wasn’t a lot of net to shoot on, but Kotkaniemi still managed to hit the top corner on the near-side with a fantastic shot.

Brendan Gallagher’s second period

Despite a dominant first period by the Canadiens, Washington managed to escape the first period tied at 1. Montreal came out flying again to start the second period, especially Gallagher.

Gallagher scored twice in the first 3:06 of the second period to give the Canadiens a two-goal lead. Gallagher’s second was one Holtby especially would want back. The initial shot went wide and hit off the backboards and back out. Holtby went to cover the post, but Gallagher managed to squeak the shot through.

A bad pass by John Carlson

With a one-goal lead and time ticking away in the third period, it looked like the Caps had this game well in hand. The Caps launched out of the defensive zone on a rush looking for the exclamation point. Carlson had the puck, but his pass was far behind his teammates and it launched the rush in the other direction. 

Kotkaniemi would finish off the play as he managed to get his stick on the puck in a scrum in front of the net and beat Holtby to tie the game at 4.

3 goals in the final 3:30 of the game

Kotkaniemi’s second goal of the game came with 3:04 remaining in the game and it looked like the game was headed to overtime. Instead of two points, Washington was going to have to battle for that second.

But there were still over three minutes left to play and Montreal had all the momentum.

Less than three minutes after Kotkanieimi’s goal, Max Domi fired a puck on Holtby. It looked like it would be a simple glove save, but the puck bounced off Holtby’s glove and into the net.

Montreal took a one-goal deficit and turned it into a one-goal lead in just 2:42.

That gave Washington only 22 seconds to try and rally for a tie, but they would not get the opportunity. The Caps pulled Holtby for the extra attacker and right off the opening faceoff, Joel Armia hit the empty net. It took him only two seconds.

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Capitals’ losing streak extends to six in stunning OT loss to Sharks

Capitals’ losing streak extends to six in stunning OT loss to Sharks

The Capitals were one second away from snapping a five-game losing streak, but instead saw that streak extended to six games as Evander Kane scored with one second left to force overtime and Tomas Hertl scored the winner in a 7-6 overtime thriller.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

1. Evander Kane’s miracle buzzer-beater

The Caps clung to a 6-5 lead late in the third when Kane found the puck on his stick in front of the net and shot it in with just one second remaining on the clock.

Just one second away from claiming two points and ending a miserable five-game losing streak, Kane’s goal forced overtime and helped extend Washington’s streak to six.

2. Hertl’s hatty

Ovechkin netted a hat trick for the home team, but Hertl matched him with three goals of his own to win the game.

Hertl scored two power play goals, including one in the third to pull the Sharks within one. He also scored the overtime winner to crush the Caps’ hopes of snapping their losing streak.

3. 12 seconds

For a team that has lost five straight and looking for some confidence, you could not have drawn up a worse start to this game. A won faceoff for the Sharks went straight to Brent Burns at the blue line. He threw the puck towards the net and it bounced off John Carlson right to the stick of Joe Pavelski who backhanded it in.

Braden Holtby had committed to the original shot and there was no way for him to recover leaving an empty net for Pavelski to shoot on.

It took just 12 seconds for the Sharks to get on the boards.

4. Too many penalties

You can’t give up six power plays in a game and live to talk about it.

San Jose tied the game at 2 in the second period thanks to a power play goal from Hertl who unleashed a one-timer from the slot to beat Holtby. In the third period Washington took two different minor penalties and the Sharks cashed in on the second. The goal came from Hertl who unleased a one-timer from the slot to beat Holtby.

The two power play goals looked almost identical. The second made the score 6-5, pulled San Jose within one of Washington and sparked the comeback.

5. The first minute of overtime

For nearly the first minute of overtime, the Caps looked as dominant as a team can look. They would not allow the puck to get out of the Sharks’ zone and got a number of opportunities to finish the game including a 3-on-1 with Tom Wilson’s shot just deflecting wide.

If the losing streak has taught Washington anything, it’s that they must take advantage of their opportunities. They didn’t finish the Sharks at the start of overtime and Hertl ended up with the game-winner.

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How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

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How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

ARLINGTON — The Capitals met as a group, the doors shut to the outside world. Not even the coaches were invited after an embarrassing 8-5 loss in Chicago on Sunday. 

You could call it a “meeting” as several players did. “A chat” was the word used by defenseman Matt Niskanen. On Monday the coaches were back for more talk and more video. Owners of the NHL’s longest current losing streak at five games, everyone has the same goal: How to get back on track as fast as possible.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page. And then the same sort of thing with the coaching staff and the players. Go over some stuff, get on the same page, refocus, reshuffle the deck a little bit and get back at it.” 

Maybe they didn’t blister the paint off the walls in the locker room at United Center on Sunday, but these aren’t exactly genteel get-togethers, either. Video doesn’t lie and Washington hasn’t been near good enough during an 0-4-1 stretch that has it technically in third place in the Metropolitan Division and just one point ahead of fourth. That’s not a spot the defending Stanley Cup champs expect to be. 

Immediate comparison will be made to the infamous blistering former coach Barry Trotz gave his players after back-to-back blowout losses in games at Nashville and Colorado left them at 10-9-1 just 20 games into the 2017-18 season.

The Capitals returned home and responded by winning 10 of their next 13 games. But these things are rarely linear. Despite spending all of January in first place in the Metro last year, by March players and coaches were right back in the meeting room. That time it was to overhaul its defensive system after the team sleepwalked through a 9-9-4 stretch from Jan. 18 to March 8. 

“In that discussion last year, there was some major changes being made and that stuff is already in place,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Now it's just about players doing their job, executing their responsibilities within that system and being better.”

Coaches can hold players accountable by reducing roles, changing lines or scratching them entirely. Reirden has done all of that, including putting center Evgeny Kuznetsov on the third line in Sunday’s loss. In dire circumstances, coaches can go nuclear as Trotz memorably did last season. That can get a team’s attention immediately - provided the tactic is not used too often. 

But it’s the players themselves who ultimately demand the most from each other when things go wrong. Washington has a veteran locker room. These players have won a Stanley Cup together. No one was willing to speak on the record about what was said in the players’ meeting or who did most of the talking. But it’s not hard to figure out, either.

Eight players (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Braden Holtby, Matt Niskanen) have nine years or more of NHL experience. Wilson, Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov have all played at least six years each for Washington. It’s an experienced roster that has been together, won together, lost together and knows its own strengths and weaknesses.    

“I think we’re a pretty loose group. That’s our nature. It works for us,” Niskanen said. “I don’t think we can get too uptight, but I think we’ll have a real determined, focused effort here the next couple nights. The guys recognize the situation that we’re in, accept it, take responsibility for it and work to try to change it.”

That rebound will have to come on back-to-back games with San Jose at home tonight (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) and on Tuesday at Toronto. Both of those teams have Stanley Cup hopes and both are struggling, too. 

The Sharks (28-16-7, 63 points) have lost three games in a row, but remain in second place in the Pacific Division. The Maple Leafs (29-17-2, 60 points) have lost two in a row and seven of 10. They are in second place in the Atlantic Division. 

These are all teams who could use the upcoming All-Star break and bye week to recharge. Washington will not practice again as a full group until 2 p.m. on Jan. 31. Holtby and Carlson will have a shorter rest period because they are going to San Jose on Thursday for NHL All-Star weekend, but even they will get a few days off to recharge. 

That escape from the mental anguish of a losing streak can help. But multiple Caps players said Monday that without at least one win it’s almost worthless. They’ll just be sitting on a beach thinking about what’s gone wrong and focusing on how to fix it. They need a win – and the lessons of last season can provide a blueprint.  

"The main thing is we've got to remember, be honest with ourselves for the last two years or so, that things haven't come easy,” Holtby said. “That's something that can be lost in the fact of winning. Because things weren't easy last year. We had to grind our way through to get where we were, and that's going to be what we have to do this year.”

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