The Washington Capitals played 58 minutes of pretty good hockey on Sunday night in Vancouver. It took just 1:47 of something less than good hockey to make the difference, though, as the Caps dropped a 4-2 decision to the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
The good part was the first period, when the Capitals Justin Peters shut the door on the Canucks, turning away all 14 shots he faced in a scoreless period. The good part continued early in the second period when the Caps started things by winning a faceoff in the Vancouver end. The puck worked its way to Mike Green at the right point, and Green floated a wrist shot at the Canuck net. The puck was deflected into the air to the right of goalie Ryan Miller. Andre Burakovsky calmly gloved the puck down to his feet, then sent a pass through the slot to Marcus Johansson coming across the faceoff circle. Johansson snapped a shot past Miller before the goalie could react, and it was 1-0, Caps.
The good feeling would end less than nine minutes later when Henrik Sedin converted a Vancouver power play, shooting the puck from a severe angle off goalie Justin Peters glove to tie the game. Just 1:22 later the Canucks had the lead when Nick Bonino took a chip pass from Chris Higgins at the Capitals’ blue line, cut through the defense, and wired a shot over Peters’ glove, off the far post and in to make it 2-1.
Only 15 seconds later, the Canucks were on the board again, Luca Sbisa stepping into a slap shot from the top of the left wing faceoff circle to make it 3-1. The Caps got one back less than two minutes after the Sbisa goal. The Caps worked the puck in deep where Kevin Bieksa tried to move it along and up the wall. Mike Green cut off the attempt and fed the puck to the slot where Liam O’Brien was setting up. O’Brien redirected the puck over Miller’s blocker, and the Caps were back within a goal.
That was as close as the Caps would get, though. Miller shut out the Caps the rest of the way, and Radim Vrbata potted an empty net goal for the final margin as the Caps sank to 4-2-2 after going 1-2-0 on the western road trip.
-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist made it points in six of eight games this season (2-5-7). He is tied for second among rookies in points.
-- Mike Green is quietly putting together a solid start to the season. He had two assists and was plus-2 in almost 21 minutes of ice time against the Canucks. It was his second multi-point game of the season, and he has yet to have a “minus” game (plus-6 overall). Green is tied for second among the league’s defensemen in total scoring (3-5-8). He and the currently injured Victor Hedman are the only defensemen among the top 20 in scoring to do it averaging less than 20 minutes of ice time (Green is averaging 19:50).
-- Against Calgary on Saturday night Marcus Johansson had his first game of the season without a shot on goal. He made up for that against the Canucks with a goal on two shots. The goal was his third of the season and his second at even strength. The two even strength goals in eight games match Johansson’s total for 80 games last season.
-- Liam O’Brien recorded his first NHL goal in this game, but he also led the team in shots on goal (5). He is tied with Burakovsky and Joel Ward with 13 shots on goal for the season despite averaging barely half the ice time of Burakovsky (7:14 to 13:52) and not much more than a third of the average ice time for Ward (18:06).
-- The 34 shots allowed by the Caps was the first time this season any team reached the 30-shot mark against the club. The Caps are still third in the league in shots allowed per game (25.0), behind St. Louis (23.4) and Minnesota (22.2).
-- The two power play goals allowed by the Caps (one an empty netter) made it four straight games that they allowed at least one power play tally. Over that span they are 10-for-15 on the penalty kill (66.7 percent).
-- The Caps had only two power plays of their own, totaling just 2:35 in power play time. It was just the third time in eight games this season that the Caps did not score a power play goal.
-- Alex Ovechkin went without a point for his fourth straight game. Not coincidentally, it was also his fourth straight game with two or fewer shots on goal.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also has gone four straight games without a point. He had one shot on goal in 12:38 in ice time, the fourth time in five games he recorded only one shot on goal. Only once this season has Kuznetsov topped 13 minutes in ice time (16:33 against New Jersey in Game 4).
-- More Capitals recorded hits (12 Caps with 25 hits) than shots on goal (10 Caps with 22 shots). The Caps were out-attempted overall by a 52-50 margin, but 28 of their attempts did not make it on net (13 shots blocked, 15 misses).
-- Not the best night for Matt Niskanen. He was on ice for three of the four Canuck goals.
In the end…
The Caps never seemed to be in this game, even with holding the game scoreless in the first period. Vancouver applied strong early pressure and outshot the Caps, 14-6, in the opening frame (the shot attempt differential was closer, 22-18 in favor of Vancouver). Justin Peters kept the Caps in it early in the first period, but the Canucks solved him on the glove side three times on consecutive shots on goal in the second period.
The Caps played just poorly enough in all three zones to lose what was essentially a one-goal game. While one could take something out of the one-goal loss in Edmonton to open this road trip, given the Caps’ possession dominance, such is not the case with this game. These are the “one-goal” decisions (empty netter notwithstanding) of the type that the Caps are going to have to win more often than they lose if they are to be a playoff team next spring.