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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Knights 4, Caps 3

February 5, 2018
Two Down – Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights leaves the Capitals saddled with consecutive regulation losses for the first time in two and a half months. Washington dropped consecutive road games in ugly fashion back in mid-November, falling 6-3 to the Predators in Nashville on Nov. 14 and 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver two nights later.

The Caps took those two mid-November losses as a wake-up call; they went on a 20-5-4 run in their next 29 games before this recent set of losses. They allowed a dozen goals in those two November losses; they’ve let in 11 goals in these two February setbacks. 

Four of the 11 were power-play goals, as the Caps have successfully killed only one of five opposition power play opportunities in these last two games.

“Tough stretch for our penalty kill,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “It’s not going good right now. I don’t know; it feels like we’re in between pressure and sitting back. And right now, power plays are having their way with us, so we’re going to have to regroup there as well. Either stay with the plan and be confident in it, or tweak a thing or two – minor adjustments, probably – and get back on our toes and be confident and aggressive.”

Sunday’s game was a fast tempo game, and a quick game, too. Puck drop was at 12:38 p.m., and the game ended at 2:59 p.m. There were only 45 face-offs in the entire game, and never more than 16 in any period. 

“That’s a fast team over there,” says Niskanen of the Knights. “They really get up the ice quickly and it was a fast game.” 

Carry Fourth – Washington grabbed a 1-0 lead on a Chandler Stephenson goal – his third in as many games – at 7:22 of the first period on Sunday. Getting an early goal from your fourth line can sometimes spark a team, but in this case Vegas responded with one of its own.

With less than four minutes remaining in the first, Vegas pulled even at 1-1 when Golden Knights fourth liner Ryan Carpenter found the back of the net with help from linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

Carpenter and Bellemare also combined to set up an Alex Tuch goal with 5:12 left in the third. That goal gave Vegas its first lead of the afternoon and proved to be the game-winning goal. 

Finally, First – Ironically, Sunday’s setback came in the first game in the last 10 in which Washington scored the game’s first goal. The Caps are now 17-3-2 when they score first in 2017-18, and they are 13-14-3 when they give up the first goal. 

The Great Eight And Rocket 88 – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin teed up 11 shot attempts in Sunday’s loss, but managed to get just one of those tries on net. Ovechkin had six shot attempts blocked, and four more missed the net. His most noteworthy miss came in the third period when he shot wide from point blank range, missing a mostly empty net after a surreptitious feed from linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov. That miss came with the game even at 3-3, just after the midpoint of the third period.

Ovechkin also saw a fair amount of former teammate Nate Schmidt on Sunday afternoon, as Schmidt logged 24:54 in ice time, more than any skater on either side.

“Nate was outstanding out there today,” says Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “He can skate and he works hard, and this is his old team so you knew he was going to have a good game.”

In addition to recording an assist on the first Vegas goal of the afternoon, Schmidt blocked three shots in Sunday’s game, and all three came off Ovechkin’s blade, including a pair in the final five minutes of the contest when the Caps were trailing by a goal and vying to get the game tied up. 

Climbing The Ladder – Caps coach Barry Trotz coached his 1,494 th regular season NHL game on Sunday, moving ahead of longtime Buffalo and Dallas coach Lindy Ruff for sole possession of fifth place on the league’s all-time coaching ledger. 

Scotty Bowman sits atop that list with 2,141 games while the late Al Arbour ranks second at 1,607. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is third at 1,591 and Dallas bench boss Ken Hitchcock is fourth at 1,507.

Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears dropped two of their three games this weekend, with Sunday’s 5-2 setback at the hands of the Charlotte Checkers following Saturday’s shootout triumph over the same team at Giant Center. The loss leaves Hershey with just one win in its last 11 games (1-7-2-1).

The wheels came off early for the Bears in Sunday’s loss. Hershey yielded five goals in the first frame, with the first coming 70 seconds after the game’s opening puck drop and the fifth coming with 17 seconds left in the initial period. 

The Bears scored twice in a span of 30 seconds in the game’s middle period to make the score a bit more respectable. With help from Nathan Walker and Connor Hobbs, Riley Barber notched his 16 th goal of the season on a Hershey power play at 14:12 of the second period. 

Thirty seconds later, Tyler Graovac netted his eighth goal of the season with Mathias Bau and Tyler Lewington assisting. 

Bears goaltender Pheonix Copley was dented for four goals on 11 shots in just 16:28 of work on Sunday. Vitek Vanecek came on in relief of Copley late in the first, and he stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced in 43:32 of work the rest of the way. 

The 18-23-3-4 Bears are mired in last place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division. Hershey will be idle until Friday when it travels to Allentown to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 22:59 in ice time and five shots on net, while Ovechkin’s aforementioned 11 shot attempts were the most among Washington skaters … Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits … Madison Bowey led the Capitals with four blocked shots … Caps defenseman Christian Djoos recorded an assist for the third straight game … Lars Eller won four of six face-offs (67%) and Nicklas Backstrom won six of 10 (60%).