CAPITAL ONE ARENA—With a four-game road swing looming, the Caps were hoping to finish off a five-game home stretch on a high note. Things did not go according to plan Sunday as the Arizona Coyotes came into Washington on the back end of a back-to-back and with their starting goalie on injured reserve and still took a 4-1 decision over the Capitals.
Here are five reasons why the Caps lost:
The penalty kill…again
The Caps’ struggles on the penalty kill continued Sunday. With Matt Niskanen in the penalty box in the first period, the Caps’ penalty kill pushed forward into the offensive zone looking for a shorthanded opportunity. A shot by John Carlson was stopped by Darcy Keumper and Arizona launched a counter attack. Suddenly a shorthanded Caps team was caught too far up ice leading to a three-on-one for the Coyotes. The penalty killers hustled to get back in time and they almost did, but they were caught completely out of position and could not get their system set up. A few slick passes by Arizona led to Vinnie Hinostroza netting the easy goal.
Todd Reirden talked in the preseason about wanting the penalty kill to be more aggressive this season, but thus far Washington has not been able to push the offense without leaving itself vulnerable in the defensive end. The team has now allowed at least one power play goal in four straight games.
The Caps need to take some notes on Arizona’s penalty kill. Not only are they top-ranked unit in the NHL, but they have also scored an incredible nine shorthanded goals on the season.
One pass too many
A promising offensive drive for Washington ended up in the back of their own net as Arizona was able to take advantage of one extra pass by Travis Boyd.
The Caps entered Arizona’s zone on a three-on-two rush. Dowd dropped a pass to Andre Burakovsky who passed it cross-ice to Boyd. Boyd had nothing but room to work with, but instead of taking the open shot he elected to make the extra pass to the trailing Michal Kempny. The pass went behind Kempny and Panik took it in the other direction and fired a beauty of a shot to beat Braden Holtby.
You see often in hockey that a missed opportunity at one end can turn into a goal at the other. That was a shot Boyd had to take.
The penalty kill…again, again
Things went from bad to worse for the Caps’ penalty kill. Nicklas Backstrom pulled the Caps to within one with his second period goal, but Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for high-sticking just 41 seconds later and the penalty kill was victimized yet again. This time it was Alex Galchenyuk who backhanded a rebound past Holtby.
Washington’s struggles on the penalty kill are completely overshadowing the strides this team has made defensively five-on-five. The Caps have allowed only two five-on-five goals in the past four games. The problem is they have also allowed six power play goals during that same stretch and have lost two of those four games.
With starting goalie Antti Raanta on IR, you may have thought the Caps caught a break Sunday. The Coyotes played Saturday in Pittsburgh and currently have a goalie with zero NHL experience serving as the backup. Head coach Rick Tocchet elected to stick with Keumper in Washington.
Despite having no rest between starts, Keumper was more than up to the task on Sunday as he looked strong between the pipes with 38 saves. He gave up only one goal to foil the return of the Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie line, though that line did account for the team's only goal of the game.
A stifled power play
Sunday’s game featured the NHL’s second-best power play for Washington facing off against the league’s best penalty kill in Arizona. The Coyotes definitely got the better of the matchup as they killed off both of Washington’s opportunities on the man advantage.
The power play was always going to regress a bit – it was producing at far too high a rate to be sustainable – but when the Caps are forced to rely on their five-on-five offense, they have come up short. Washington is now 0-4-1 in games in which they have not scored at least one power play goal.
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