Tuesday night on the road the Washington Capitals played perhaps their two best periods of the season, but it was a poor third period that proved their undoing in a 3-2 loss on against the Ottawa Senators.
The Caps took a 2-0 lead late in the first period on goals by Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks, the second marker of the season for each. Michal Neuvirth earned his fourth start in a row for Washington after Braden Holtby started the seasons’ first two games. Although Neuvirth stopped 24 shots during the game, it was three Senators shots in the final 21:23 of regulation to send the Caps out of Scotiabank Place a disappointed group of players.
While no team enjoys giving up goals, the three that found the back of Washington’s net were particularly poor. Jim O’Brien’s goal at the end of the second period was a simple tip-in from a forward who crashed the front of Neuvirth’s crease unabated. Early in the third, Ottawa’s Milan Michalek, who scored 35 goals in 77 games last season, was similarly uncovered off a faceoff in Washington’s end and snapped a backhand that beat Neuvirth cleanly.
Michalek’s marker tied the game at two apiece, and at that point the wind was clearly out of Washington’s sails. The Caps only registered nine shots in the third, their lowest period total in the game, while the Sens put 12 shots, their period high, on D.C.’s net.
More tellingly than the shot total, Washington registered few scoring chances in the third, playing in the nervous defensive shell of a team with only one win this season. Rather than trying to earn a win the Caps appeared to be simply playing not to lose, an effort made more difficult when a blown call sent forward Joel Ward to the penalty box with under four minute to play in regulation.
Ottawa took advantage of the opportunity, with powerplay specialist and former Cap Sergei Gonchar blasting a slapshot from the point that slipped inside the right post at 2:07 of the third frame. Although desperate for a win, Washington only managed two shots on net while trailing, and only one scoring chance by Mike Ribeiro when playing with an extra skater.
Tuesday’s loss was made more disappointing by the fact that the Caps had scored twice in the first frame and looked to be well on their way to their first dominating performance of the season. Brouwer opened the scoring on a goal more reminiscent of teammate Alex Ovechkin’s efforts than his own grinder personality. The winger broke down the center of the ice on a 2-on-1 with Wojtek Wolski, and made a nifty forehand-backhand deke with the puck after receiving Wolski’s perfect pass in the high slot. It was perhaps not the ideal play in that situation, but the shot trickled through Senators goalie Craig Anderson’s leg pads into the net at 13:15 of the first.
Four minutes later Washington doubled its lead when Matt Hendricks deflected John Erskine’s shot from the right corner through Anderson’s body. The assist was the second point of the season for Erskine, a defenseman who now has 45 points in 426 career games over parts of 11 seasons.
Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle also earned assists for the Caps, who somehow only in fourth place in the Southeast Division despite a 1-4-1 record. Captain Alex Ovechkin continued his disappointing early season by recording only two shots on net, as well as two penalty minutes, in 19:51 of ice time.
Luckily for Washington, the players and coaching staff will have little time to dwell on Tuesday’s loss, as they take the ice against Thursday evening in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. The usually-weak Leafs are an even 3-3-0 this season, and a loss for the Caps may truly spell the start of a short yet disappointing campaign in 2013.