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Despite Caps' loss, Jakub Vrana has a memorable NHL debut

Despite Caps' loss, Jakub Vrana has a memorable NHL debut

For 19 Capitals, Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Islanders is a game they’d like to forever purge from their memory.

For one Jakub Vrana, it was an eventful night he’ll never forget.

Vrana, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, made his NHL debut, got pranked by his teammates during warmups, nearly scored on his first shift and finished with four shots on goal—more than all but three teammates.  

Vrana said after the game that he was surprised by the speed of the NHL game, but coming just a few inches away from scoring on his first shift helped settle his nerves.

“It was a new experience and I had a great feeling out there,” he said. “I had a few shots, they just miss. It kind of hurts to end up the game [with a loss] like this.”

RELATED: Prediction recap: Halak plays spoiler against Caps yet again

On his early scoring chance, Vrana went to the net, caught a pass and, in one fluid motion, spun and whipped a backhander hard on net. The shot, which ended up going through Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy, forced goalie Jaroslav Halak to make a good stick save.

“Everything happened so quick,” Vrana said of the opportunity. “If I could take it back, I would probably shoot [the puck] up.”

He added: “Obviously that first shift helped a lot. Then I just kinda cooled down and tried to play my game.”

Despite skating on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, Vrana ended up with a team-low 10:10 of ice time. One reason for the low total is all of the special teams play in the game; recalled on Wednesday, Vrana doesn’t have a role on the penalty kill or power play. Yet, anyway.

Vrana, however, still managed to leave a positive impression on Coach Barry Trotz, who said earlier in the day that he’s looking to add speed and offense to a lineup that now has 12 goals in the past six games. It was just one night, of course, but Vrana’s straight line speed and hustle stood out. His four shots, meantime, underscored his ability to generate scoring chances.  

“I thought he was fine,” Trotz said. “He got the first shot of the game. He had a couple of good wall plays and he’s a really good skater.”

Back to Vrana’s scoring chance just 1:16 into the game. That was actually the second most memorable part of the Czech winger’s night. The part he’ll never forget came during warmups when his teammates picked him to be the first player to come through the tunnel and skate onto the ice. One issue: no one followed him. So for several seconds, Vrana was the only player on the ice.   

“I kinda had a feeling,” Vrana said. “It’s obviously a moment I never forget, right? It’s funny.”

MORE CAPITALS: Orlov owns up to his role in the Caps' 3-0 loss to the Islanders

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Injuries hit Capitals hard in 3-1 loss to Winnipeg

Injuries hit Capitals hard in 3-1 loss to Winnipeg

The Capitals were already facing one of the toughest back-to-back challenges in the NHL. Then they found out their starting goalie would not play and less than nine minutes into the game lost their No. 1 center. 

That about summed up a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. The last time an NHL team swept a back-to-back set of games against the Jets and Minnesota Wild was 2012. 

Washington played well enough taking a 1-0 lead on a Jakub Vrana goal in the first period and the game was tied until 12:51 of the third period when a shot by Ben Chiarot skipped past goalie Pheonix Copley. The Jets added an empty-net goal to seal the win. 

The loss is one thing. Winnipeg is a tough place to play and maybe the favorite to come out of the Western Conference. But injuries have begun to mount and that’s the big takeaway. 

Holtby showed up to the rink Wednesday morning and it was assumed he’d play after Copley won the game in St. Paul against the Wild. Instead, Holtby was ruled out with an upper-body injury and the Capitals had to sign an emergency goalie – Gavin McHale, a 31-year-old assistant coach for a local women’s college hockey team in Winnipeg. That is less than ideal. 

Holtby’s injury might not be a big deal. You’ll know if Washington recalls top prospect Ilya Samsonov from AHL Hershey for Friday’s game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. 

“That was this morning. [Holtby] came over with our goalie coach and did a skate this morning and was not able to back up tonight or play,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “So he was kind of a game-time decision and he wasn’t able to participate tonight.”

Holtby will be re-evaluated Thursday after he gets continuing treatment for his injury. There has to be concern about Kuznetsov, who took an elbow to the face at 8:52 of the first period from Jets forward Brandon Tanev. Kuznetsov left the game and did not return. 

That left the Caps shorthanded most of the night with Lars Eller playing center alongside Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on the top line. Ovechkin ended up playing 24:21. Eller played 18:48 and Backstrom 21:41. Not having Kuznetsov would be an issue. He’s not a player they can replace for long. 

“Was more precautionary,” Reirden said. “Obviously a blow to the head. We had to continue to evaluate him tomorrow, but we needed to make sure he didn’t return to the game.”

Washington, of course, could look to last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs when they missed Backstrom for Game 6 during the second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a hand injury and the first three games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

Oshie was the final blow. He was slammed to the ice by Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey and the back of his head hit the ice. Reirden compared the play to a hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson on Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson. He was suspended two games on Oct. 15.  

Oshie certainly didn’t look right. He had to stay on the ice as the Caps pushed for the tying goal with the net empty down 2-1. But it took a while for him to get back to his skates and then he wasn’t able to jump on a loose puck in the slot moments before Winnipeg put the game away at the other end of the ice with an empty-net goal. 

The result is one thing for the Capitals (8-7-3), who are still struggling to generate multiple wins in a row. The status of their three key players is more important after a 1-1-0 start to a four-game road trip. 

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

A shorthanded Caps team entered Wednesday's game, lost Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the first period and lost the game midway through the third period.

After playing a tight game for two periods, the Jets finally broke the tie in the third period and added an empty-net goal for the 3-1 win.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost:

So many injuries

Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury, Michal Kempny was out with an illness and midway through the first period, Kuznetsov took an elbow to the head from Brandon Tanev and had to leave the game for an upper-body injury.

Not having your starting goalie, your top line center or a top-four defenseman makes it hard for any team to win, especially against an opponent as good as Winnipeg.

The second period

With no Braden Holtby and no Michal Kempny, the Caps came out ready to play and completely dominated Winnipeg in the opening frame. Washington took a 1-0 lead in the first and outshot the Jets 10-2.

Things completely flipped in the second period.

Winnipeg took to the Caps in the middle frame as they outshot Washington 14-10, drew two penalties and scored a power play goal to tie the game at one.

The first period was about as perfect a game as a shorthanded Caps team could play. The second period, however, allowed the Jets to climb back into it.

Seven seconds on the power play

The Jets utilize a very similar power play to that of the Caps and it’s about as effective. In fact, Winnipeg is the only team with a better power play this season than Washington. That was on the display in the second period when it took just seven seconds for Winnipeg to carve up the penalty kill and score the game-tying goal.

Mark Scheifele was lined up in the T.J. Oshie spot in the slot ready to take the goal line pass from Kyle Connor and he buried it home just seven seconds into the power play.

A Backstrom shot that somehow did not go in

With the scored tied at 1 in the third, Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to give the Caps the lead. It looked like he did just that, but the puck just would not trickle over the line. Backstrom beat Connor Hellebuyck up high but the puck hit the crossbar. It did not go in. It trickled on the goal line before Hellebuyck swept it off with this stick. It did not go in. Hellebuyck could not control it and the puck trickled back on the line again before getting swept out by Dustin Byfuglien. Once again, It. Did. Not. Go. In.

Three different times it looked like the Caps had taken the lead and all three times the puck somehow did not go in.

One tough goal

Give Copley all the credit in the world. He was given the tough assignment of playing in Winnipeg on the back end of a back-to-back after playing the night before. For the most part, he was brilliant Wednesday.

Unfortunately, in a game that was as close as this one was, Copley’s lone mistake proved costly.

Ben Chiarot carried the puck over the blue line and fired a slap shot from distance that somehow got past the glove of Copley.

The puck was knuckling a bit and may have deflected slightly off the stick of John Carlson – it was not clear from the replay – but in a 1-1 game in the third period, Copley needs to save a shot like that. It was harder than it looked, but the Caps really needed that save.

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