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Capitals look lost against the lowly Coyotes in a ‘terrible’ loss

Capitals look lost against the lowly Coyotes in a ‘terrible’ loss

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

Before the game, Spencer Carbery admitted he was a little bit worried.

After his Washington Capitals turned in an emotional effort as they rallied to win a game crucial to their playoff hopes Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers, the coach was concerned about a letdown Sunday afternoon against the Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena.

The Coyotes came into the matchup with just one win in their previous 15 games (1-12-2). After the Capitals spent the past two weeks facing Eastern Conference opponents with an eye on reviving their playoff hopes, a matinee matchup with a mediocre Western Conference squad had the makings of a game where they could let off the gas just a bit.

“If you were looking at it and thinking, ‘Oh, this is great; I can go about 75 [percent] tonight, and I should have a good night,’ ” Carbery said, recalling his message to his players, “you’re going to be surprised very early in this hockey game.”

Carbery’s concerns proved valid. Arizona’s Logan Cooley scored on a breakaway less than eight minutes in, and the Coyotes rolled to a 5-2 win from there.

“Given the circumstances, for sure that’s the most disappointing game that I’ve coached this year,” Carbery said. “… The first two periods, that’s the worst we’ve played all year.”

“Terrible,” Capitals winger Anthony Mantha said. “I don’t think we were ready from the start. Every time we dig ourselves in a hole, it’s hard to come back against these teams. We’re not going to score five goals every night. If you give [up] four and you’re chasing, it’s just almost impossible.”

Charlie Lindgren made 23 saves for Washington (28-23-9); Karel Vejmelka stopped 24 shots for the Coyotes (25-31-5). The loss kept the Capitals six points behind third-place Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand.

Jason Zucker extended the Coyotes’ lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal 4:06 into the second period. The Capitals found a spark with a power-play tally by winger Sonny Milano less than two minutes later, but Arizona defenseman Michael Kesselring responded just 43 seconds after that.

The young Coyotes’ skating and skill exposed the Capitals’ lack of speed all afternoon.

“We talked about this as a staff before the game: Teams like that, that are young, fast and skilled, give us trouble because it’s just too quick for us,” Carbery said.

The Capitals came unglued in the second period, with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties being assessed to defenseman John Carlson and winger Tom Wilson, who also got a 10-minute misconduct. Both infractions were for abuse of officials.

“You just put that in the category with disappointing,” Carbery said. “… Especially from veteran leadership guys, it just can’t happen.”

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Arizona scored its second power-play goal during Wilson’s minor to take a 4-1 lead. Dylan Guenther’s cross-crease pass deflected off Carlson and past Lindgren.

Mantha scored his 20th goal of the season 10 seconds into the third period and the Capitals rallied late to put some late pressure on Vejmelka during a six-on-four advantage, but it came far too late. Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz hit the empty net to set the final margin.

“Last game was so important for us, and I thought we played really well. And then you come out here [Sunday], and we’re not ready, we’re not sharp,” Mantha said. “It’s just hard. We don’t have an easy schedule up ahead, and maybe we took this game a little too easy from the start.”

Center Evgeny Kuznetsov — whom the Capitals placed on waivers Saturday shortly after he was allowed to resume practice following a stint in the NHL’s player assistance program — cleared Sunday. He was assigned to Hershey, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate.

As part of the follow-up care phase of the player assistance program, which is jointly run by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association, Kuznetsov has not yet been cleared to play in games. On Saturday, General Manager Brian MacLellan didn’t rule out the possibility of Kuznetsov playing for Washington again, but he emphasized several times that both player and organization were looking for a fresh start.

In 43 games this season, Kuznetsov has just six goals and 11 assists.

“I think he’s got to get some stuff in his personal life straightened out, and I think playing-wise, too,” MacLellan said. “I think he needs to find the level that he’s accustomed to playing at. … I don’t know [if] he finds it, but I think it’s important for him.”

With Kuznetsov in the AHL, $1.15 million of his $7.8 million salary no longer counts against Washington’s cap, giving the Capitals a little more wiggle room ahead of Friday’s trade deadline. Kuznetzov’s contract runs through the 2024-25 season.

Carbery said he addressed Kuznetsov’s situation with the team Saturday.

“Some of the guys in our room have been with him for all 11 years, right? Felt like I owed him that,” Carbery said. “… For me, as a coach, as a person, someone that I have a relationship with, [I] just feel for him as a person. I hope the outcome of this is just the best for him and his family and his kids and his wife. That’s what I’m hopeful for.”

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