While the Capitals had gone 259 days between home games at Verizon Center, Washington’s first chance to play in front of the home fans didn’t exactly go the way they wanted in a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg.
After taking an early lead, Washington allowed two power-play goals in the first period, giving the visitors – who played the day before in Boston – all the momentum as the Capitals lost their second game on the young season.
The defeat left the Caps frustrated and concerned with an apparent lack of energy despite the brand new campaign.
“I didn’t think we had the energy we needed tonight,” Matt Hendricks, who had one of the Capitals’ two goals as well as a pair of fights, said. “One of our keys to success was put them on their heels, put pucks in their end, get them to turn [it over], get them to work. They played last night and we didn’t make it look like that.”
“Your home opener, after such a long wait, you want to be able to come out and have energy and enthusiasm and be crisp,” Troy Brouwer said. “It just wasn’t there. It was very disappointing for us.
“We love to play in front of this building and in front of these fans. The home opener, big divisional points. Everything was there for us to be amped up for this game, and we were just flat.”
All started well for the Capitals, and Hendricks got his first goal of the season on a pretty play by deflecting in a Nicklas Backstrom feed past Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec with 10:02 gone in the first, sounding the goal horn for the first time since last May.
But things quickly turned south just under two minutes later when Joel Ward was sent to the box for tripping, leading to the Jets’ power-play unit wresting the momentum back.
Evander Kane tied the game just 2:32 after Hendricks’ goal, as the puck deflected off John Carlson’s back skate and off Braden Holtby and in the net. Then, Carlson was whistled for throwing the puck over the glass and the Jets took the lead for good with 3:34 left in the period when Andrew Ladd deposited a blast past Holtby at the tail end of the penalty kill.
“Well, the first one kind of richoched off Carly, so that was a tough one and the second one was ended the PK, a bit of a mystery I thought,” Adam Oates said afterwards.
The second period was all Winnipeg, as the Jets outshot the Caps 20-9 and extended their lead, as Kane beat Carlson badly down the boards and dished to Blake Wheeler for a 3-1 lead with 5:28 left in the period, and Jim Slater added another in the period’s final minute.
While Brouwer scored with 1:16 to play to make the score 4-2, an unsportsmanlike penalty on Mike Ribeiro ended the comeback bid.
After the game, Oates said he was concerned for the team’s apparent lack of energy and conditioning.
“I would say that on the bench we were concerned about it,” Oates said. “The guys looked like they didn’t have much in the tank and I’m sure that’s a product of this season and what’s happened and some of our conditioning levels which we talked about every day.
“You don’t have that reserve tank built in, you go out there, you’re not sure how you feel, you have a good shift, a bad shift. When you’re not in tip-top shape, mentally you kind of monitor your energy on how much you expend on a shift to shift basis. It’s still the NHL – it’s a tough way to play.”
“When you get tired, your decision-making goes, that’s the first thing,” Brouwer said. “Your brain starts to get lazy and everything else follows. We’re having a tough time being crisp and sharp, whether that’s practice or out of practice, pay attention to details, we have to correct it fast.”
With the compressed season, the Caps are aware a long losing streak certainly puts their postseason hopes in jeopardy
“Before the season started, a quick little losing streak and you might find yourself in the outs of the playoffs,” Brouwer said. “Going down the last couple of games … There are a lot of intangibles we have to work through, new coach, new systems, things like that, like I said the grace period is over.
“We have to be playing good hockey now and whether it’s our effort should be better, our details need to be better, we need to pick it up.”
Washington gets another chance for the first win on the year Thursday when Montreal visits Verizon Center.