LAS VEGAS — It is the unquestioned strength of a Capitals team that won a Stanley Cup last season and is again in the mix early this season.
But for one night at least, a vaunted power play came up short in a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Washington, ahead 2-1 late in the second period, could not capitalize on a five-minute major penalty to Vegas forward Ryan Reaves and missed another opportunity in the third period.
That they tied the game anyway was admirable in a tough environment before a revved up crowd. That they didn’t win was because of special teams – a penalty kill that allowed two more goals, but really a power play that never had a chance.
The Capitals entered the game 23-for-83 (27.7 percent) on the power play, sixth in the NHL. They are there despite missing T.J. Oshie (concussion), a key part of that five-man unit, for three weeks now. Washington went 0-for-4 against an aggressive Knights penalty kill, but because of the major they didn’t score despite 10:38 with the extra man.
“We definitely outplayed them five-on-five I would say,” defenseman John Carlson said. “We think we’re pretty good on the power play. Just need to be better on that – and on the PK, too.”
The Capitals rarely lack for confidence on the power play. But they are dealing with personnel issues that could be limiting their consistency lately. Oshie was replaced in the bumper spot in the slot by Wilson, who was knocked woozy by Vegas forward Ryan Reaves at 15:42 of the second period and left the game for good. Brett Connolly replaced Wilson in that spot. But on its four power plays Washington managed just three shots on goal.
“Credit to them they did a good job on the kill,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We got as few chances but not as many as we would have hoped and had to change our personnel a little bit without Tom in that diamond spot. It comes down to that.”
The Capitals gave up two quick goals early in the third period after not scoring on the major penalty. Down 3-2, they did tie the game on a Jakub Vrana goal at 11:40 of the third. But again they might have had a lead if they took advantage of their chances. Penalties to Vegas defenseman Colin Miller (high sticking) and Jonathan Marchessault (slashing) were easily parried by the Knights.
Vegas took advantage finally when ex-Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt made his former team pay for a four-minute high-sticking penalty with just 11 seconds to go on it. He beat goalie Braden Holtby with a wrister from just inside the blueline on a rush up ice and – for good measure – twisted the knife with an empty-net goal with seven seconds to go. If Washington’s power play is clicking, maybe it never gets to that point.
“We know that they’re good. They hawk pucks, they track you down pretty good, they backcheck hard,” Carlson said. “That’s one of their biggest strengths. We weren’t clean enough to beat it. When teams pressure it’s fine. Someone’s going to be wide open if we move the puck well and we didn’t have that edge tonight. We didn’t move it well enough to have those real wide open looks.”
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