For 20 minutes, the Capitals and Blues appeared headed for an offensive shootout that’d be a run-and-gun affair throughout the night.
The final two periods, though, were a masterclass in suffocating hockey by the Blues.
In a 5-2 loss Tuesday at Capital One Arena, the Capitals started decently and finished with a thud, tallying just eight shots on net in the second and third periods combined. The end result was a disheartening and frustrating loss just a day after the trade deadline.
“I think overall, in all three zones, we weren’t good enough,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It starts from the back end and we weren’t good enough there and then a lot of turnovers and a lot of odd-man rushes. So I think that’s an area that we’ve got to clean up too if we want to be a great team.”
The Blues scored twice in the second period and added an empty-net goal for good measure as they slowly dragged the life out of the game.
With Washington needing a goal, St. Louis put up 23 shots in the final 40 minutes as their forecheck and pressure was relentless all over the ice.
“Some of those Western teams, they play a pretty detailed game with some skill throughout their lineup and I just think we probably weren’t good enough on pucks, taking away their space,” Tom Wilson said. “When they get a lead, they’re good at playing with a lead. Some of those better teams, it’s hard to chase the games against teams like that.”
And it felt like once the Blues took command of the game, there was less and less the Capitals had in terms of time and space. In the final two periods, the Capitals had just 16 shot attempts at five-on-five (and seven shots) and just 21 shot attempts altogether, per Natural Stat Trick.
Vitek Vanecek got the start in net and, for his part, stopped 33 of 37 St. Louis shots on the night. But the goals he allowed were not necessarily his fault, as Washington allowed far too many backdoor chances and odd-man rushes throughout the night.
The loss came on the heels of a 7-0-1 stretch for the Capitals to begin the month. Now, they’ve lost two straight with just 17 regular-season games left to play.
“On a long playoff run you need consistency and I think right now we’ve just got to find that consistency,” Wilson said. “We’ve had four or five games that we played really well the last month or so, but there’s glimpses of it. There’s glimpses of it tonight, even. I thought there was times where you’re like, ‘Wow, we’ve got what it takes,’ and then they kind of smothered us.”
There’ll be a few weeks still for the Capitals to get healthy — Nic Dowd, Johan Larsson, T.J. Oshie, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Joe Snively all were not ready enough to play.
When healthy, they’re hopeful they’ll look back on Tuesday’s lackluster night as just a blip on the radar.
“I think we have all the pieces,” Wilson said. “We just need to execute. We need to show up. We need to make this building a little bit of a harder building to play in and just get after teams and maybe not worry so much about what they’re doing and their structure. We’ve just got to control the play a little more and, like Nick said, move the puck and make plays and have a little more energy, a little more jam to our game.”