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Early two-goal deficit proves bad omen as Caps fall in OT to Panthers

Early two-goal deficit proves bad omen as Caps fall in OT to Panthers

WASHINGTON – The Capitals battled back from an early two-goal deficit to earn a point after trailing for most of the game, but they ultimately fell 5-4 in overtime to the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

It’s tough to beat a goalie as good as Roberto Luongo if you give him a two-goal lead to play with. The Caps did their best with two goals in the third period to tie the game at 4 and earn a hard-fought point. They came up just short, however, thanks to a Mike Hoffman's overtime goal.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

35 seconds

The Caps had a good start to the game, but that was all erased by an offensive-zone trip by T.J. Oshie. The penalty kill looked pretty good until just when the penalty expired and Frank Vatrano shot in a loose puck from the slot. The goal came one second after the power play.

Just 35 seconds later, Keith Yandle fired a shot from the blue line that deflected off of the stick of T.J. Oshie, bounced off the ice and completely handcuffed Braden Holtby.

The Caps went from feeling pretty good about how they were playing to being down by two in just 35 seconds.

Two quick responses

Washington was playing from behind for the majority of the game. If you want to come back from a two-goal deficit, you have to be able to both score and keep the opponent from responding. Twice in the game, the Caps managed to pull within one and twice, the Panthers responded quickly to restore the two-goal lead.

Brett Connolly got Washington on the board in the second period by deflecting a pass from Andre Burakovsky into the net. Less than five minutes later, Colton Sceviour deflected a shot from Aaron Ekblad down past Holtby. The deflection was absolutely brutal and had Holtby sliding in the wrong direction.

The second period ended on a high note as Lars Eller made the score 3-2 with 41 seconds remaining. Just seven seconds into the third, however, Derick Brassard again gave the Panthers a two-goal lead with his rebound goal.

Washington did ultimately tie the game and earn a point by forcing overtime, but they made life hard on themselves by giving up the early two goals and allowing Florida to respond so many times.

A rough moment for Michal Kempny

Washington trailed by only one heading into the third period. That deficit became two again after an embarrassing blunder by Michal Kempny.

Nicklas Backtrom won the opening faceoff and fed it back to Kempny. Kempny initially controlled the puck, but feeling the pressure from Evgeni Dadanov, he lost control and then lost his balance and fell as he tried to find the puck. Dadanov skated in and shot on Holtby who made the initial save easy enough, but he did not freeze the puck and swept it away with his stick right to Derick Brassard who shot home the rebound.

A bad slash

Connolly had a heck of a night with his second career three-point game (2 goals, 1 assist), but he also cost the Caps big when he was called for slashing with just 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation.

Aleksander Barkov was skating up with the puck when Connolly knocked his stick from his hands with a chop for an obviously slash. It came in the offensive zone and was an unnecessary play that ended up costing Washington the game as Hoffman scored in overtime on the resulting power play.

Bobby Lu

On a night in which Holtby played in his 400th NHL game, Roberto Luongo celebrated the 1,000th start of his storied career. He made sure it was a win with a number of great saves including robbing Andre Burakovsky with the glove early in the first.

Luongo made 26 saves to earn the 483rd win over his career, good for fourth all-time and pulling him one within Ed Belfour.

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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