Then, in a 12 minute stretch in the second period, it fell apart as the New York Rangers skated off with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center.
Lars Eller got the Caps off and running less than two minutes into the game when he redirected a shot from Brooks Orpik up and past the left shoulder of goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0. Alex Ovechkin pulled one out of the old right wing playbook for the Caps’ second goal when skating into the right wing circle in the Rangers’ zone, he faked pushing the puck to the middle, pulled it back to the outside, and as defenseman Marc Staal bit on the fake, Ovechkin snapped a shot past Lundqvist’s blocker on the far side to make it 2-0, 14:49 into the period.
That was how the teams went to the first period intermission, and after that it was all Rangers. Or, more precisely, it was all Rangers for a 12:01 stretch of the second period. It started with Brandon Pirri using Nate Schmist as a screen and snapping a shot past the glove of goalie Braden Holtby 2:21 into the second period. At 11:22, Jimmy Vesey tied the game on a power play, converting a pass from Rick Nash for a tap in to the left of Holtby.
Three minutes later, Vesey scored what would be the game-winner. Taking a pass from Mats Zuccarello inside the Caps’ blue line, Vesey curled in and got position on defenseman Karl Alzner before backhanding the puck over Holtby’s left pad at the 14:22 mark.
The teams fought on even terms thereafter, the Rangers holding on and the Caps searching for the equalizer, but it was Rick Nash getting an empty netter in the last minute to give the Rangers the 4-2 win.
-- With the Caps’ loss, there are now two teams (at least of this writing) that have yet to lose in regulation – Vancouver and Montreal.
-- The penalty kill continues to struggle. The goal by Jimmy Vesey made it four games in five in which the Caps allowed a power play goal. They are now 10-for-14 (71.4 percent).
-- The empty net goal was the first third period goal the Caps allowed this season.
-- Over the first 29:20 of the game, the Caps were charged with 12 giveaways, the Ranger with none.
-- We had Justin Williams as the player to ponder against Florida, and he scored his first goal of the season. We had Lars Eller as the player to ponder for this game, and he scored his first goal of the season. Better start thinking about the Edmonton game.
-- There were only 14 faceoffs in the Capitals’ defensive zone all night. The Caps won six of them.
-- Nicklas Backstrom was a minus-2 for the night, his first minus-2 since March 4th of last season, also against the Rangers.
-- The Caps still have not allowed an opponent more than 30 shots on goal in a game. The Rangers had 26. The only time an opponent hit the 30-shot mark was the Penguins in the opener, a game that wen the full 65 minutes of regulation and overtime.
-- Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson did not record a shot attempt. One of those is unsurprising. Another one is disappointing.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov gets the buffet coupon for this game… one assist, two shots, three attempts blocked, two misses, two hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, and he won five of 14 draws.
In the end…
Scoring first is among the best predictors of success in the NHL. Getting out to a two-goal lead, especially when you haven’t allowed more than two goals in a game yet, should have been a lock. That it was not spoke to some lackadaisical play on the part of the Caps in the second period. The Caps allowed the Rangers too much freedom too close to their own net to convert opportunities. And once the Caps lost the momentum, they could not quite get it back, even though they held the Rangers to 12 shots on their goaltender in the last two periods. It was not the way the team wanted to wrap things up at home before heading out to western Canada next week.