In the opening few minutes of Wednesday’s game against the Oilers, the Capitals appeared to be a team with a pre-determined loss on the schedule.
Their starting goalie was pulled in the opening minutes and the backup was making his first NHL appearance of the season. The team captain was placed on the COVID-19 list just hours before puck drop, adding to a list that already includes T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha. And perhaps above all, the Capitals played a frantic overtime game against their rivals just 24 hours prior in Pittsburgh.
But after falling in a three-goal hole in the first 5:07, the Capitals rallied to tie the game early in the third period. Only then, a disastrous power play led to a shorthanded goal and gave the Capitals a 5-3 loss to enter the All-Star break.
“It was tough, certainly not the way you want to start the game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You look up and quickly in a game you’re down three. It’s a real high mountain to get back. I think it just lets the air out too on the bench and in the building. It makes it a little bit difficult.”
After the Capitals gave up three goals in the first 307 seconds, they pulled netminder Ilya Samsonov and inserted Pheonix Copley into the game. And in relief, Copley stopped all but one of the 22 shots directed his way.
“I just knew, there's always a chance to play so I just wanted to be ready,” Copley said. “We’ve had some success with the Bears recently and that’s been a lot of fun down there. I’m really enjoying myself on the ice. My mentality was to just try and play my game if I got a chance and I got a chance tonight.”
The lone goal Copley was beaten on was a shorthanded marker, as the Capitals failed to set up much in the offensive zone with the man-advantage.
“It was a pass that went cross-ice, it bounced a little bit funny, they pressured and it went back the other way pretty quick in a rush,” Laviolette said. “I didn’t look at it again, there was a shot and there’s something happened and it popped to the far post and it’s sitting there on the back post.”
In six minutes of power play time, the Alex Ovechkin-less Capitals attempted just two shots on the man advantage and put none of them on net. The Oilers, while shorthanded, outshot the Capitals 2-0 in those six minutes.
Washington’s power play is now 28th in the NHL at 15.3%, ahead of just the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Canadiens and Coyotes.
“I feel like it’s always something, right?” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I feel like we are playing for each other. We try to do right things and sometimes it doesn’t go well. We going to keep working hard and we going to fight until we going to get successful.”