Capitals goalie Braden Holtby held the puck, and then held it some more. He waited way too long. Before anyone knew what happened, it was in the back of the net.
A clearing attempt in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday epitomized Washington’s night. One careless turnover after another helped Dallas on all four of its goals. The Capitals gained a standings point, but were again left searching for the team that won the Stanley Cup last season.
Holtby’s clearing attempt from behind his net hit Stars forward Tyler Pitlick in the chest. He quickly skated around the net and beat Holtby with a wrap-around shot. It was Dallas’ second goal in 10 seconds.
The first one came when a Matt Niskanen pass across the blue line slipped past Alex Ovechkin. Or maybe he let it go through on purpose with teammate Dmitry Orlov waiting a few feet down the line. Whatever the intent, Stars forward Gemel Smith intercepted the puck and pushed it ahead to Tyler Seguin, who beat Holtby on the breakaway for a 2-0 lead.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to play the percentages,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “We’ve been turning a lot of pucks over lately and sometimes you’ve got to chip it in the corner and go get it, take the body, keep it a little more simple and when the play is there you make it. We‘re a little off on that right now, but we’ll find it.”
That is a neat summation of where Washington stands a month into the season. A team that should have a fully-formed identity with almost every player back from its Cup title is 5-4-3.
The Capitals routinely go to overtime - five times in 12 games – and have lost three of those games. Those are points they won’t get back. No one is panicking, but losing in overtime to Dallas and blowing a late lead against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday have erased some of the pleasure from a 2-1-0 road trip to Western Canada last week.
“Unforced errors cost us some turnovers that ended up in the back of our net,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “Certainly some mental mistakes there allowed them to convert and score some goals. I wouldn't say it's really the same as last game because I felt like we were behind in this game, we came on, we came back, we battled, we competed, we got ourselves back.”
But it still wasn't enough to get two points, and a season-long five-game homestand started on a sour note. It was similar to the last game Washington played at home on Oct. 19, a 6-5 loss to the Florida Panthers in a shootout.
The overtime game-winner for the Stars came on a bit of bad luck when an outlet pass during 3-on-3 play from defenseman John Carlson missed forward Jakub Vrana, who seemed to hit a rut in the ice as the puck got to him. Instead, it went to fourth liner Jason Dickerson, who slipped a shot past Holtby to end it. Vrana earlier was stripped of the puck at 10:36 of the second period behind his own net and a quick pass to Jamie Benn out front made it a 3-2 game. Vrana screamed at the official because he thought he’d been hooked from behind, but to no avail. It was that kind of night.
The Capitals aren't off to a bad start. They have 13 points through 12 games. They are in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, but two points out of second. It’s fine. They’ve been….fine. The bar has been set far higher than that for the defending champs, who have yet to win consecutive games yet. Yes, Tom Wilson is still suspended and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik is hurt. But there are opportunities here for other players to fill roles. That’s not happening. Not yet, anyway.
“It’s just about finding our identity. We really have to tighten up our [defensive] zone,” defenseman Madison Bowey said. “I know we’re leaving our great goaltender, Braden, out to dry on a few of those chances there. The main thing is sharpening up our details here. I know we have a long way to go. I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction. But the two points is what we want at the end of the day.”
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