Sputtering Caps fall to Ottawa in overtime, stretching their skid to six

Sputtering Caps fall to Ottawa in overtime, stretching their skid to six

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

When the Washington Capitals lost six consecutive games in late January and early February, the skid threatened to derail a promising season, perhaps one that would include a return to the playoffs after they missed out last year.

But then they went on a run, building momentum and clawing back into the race. They lost consecutive games only once between Feb. 17 and March 26, but the wheels have fallen off since.

After Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators at Capital One Arena, Washington is winless in its past six games (0-4-2) and staring down the possibility of another postseason-free spring. The Capitals (36-30-11, 83 points) are far from mathematically eliminated — they are just one point behind the Detroit Red Wings (38-31-8, 84 points) for the Eastern Conference’s second and final wild-card spot and two behind the New York Islanders (35-27-15, 85 points) for third place in the Metropolitan Division — but their hopes are fading fast.

“We don’t have time to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves,” said defenseman John Carlson, who was honored beforehand for reaching 1,000 NHL games last month. “We’ve got to win out and hope for the best.”

Washington goaltender Charlie Lindgren stopped 18 shots, but Senators defenseman Jake Sanderson beat him from long range 41 seconds into overtime. Joonas Korpisalo made 20 saves for Ottawa.

The Capitals took an early lead when winger Max Pacioretty ended an 18-game goalless drought just 4:43 in. Before the game, Coach Spencer Carbery emphasized his team’s need to be more consistent in creating turnovers off the forecheck, and winger Sonny Milano responded by forcing Ottawa’s Mark Kastelic into a giveaway behind the Senators’ net. Hendrix Lapierre secured the puck at the near side of the net, then quickly found Pacioretty wide open on the far side for the finish.

Little else of note happened for the rest of the period. The teams combined for nine shots on goal through 20 minutes — which made sense for the Senators (34-39-4), who were on the second night of a back-to-back and have nothing to play for, but not for the Capitals, who desperately needed a victory.

“I just think we’re not in sync,” Carlson said. “We’re just a little bit off on a lot of certain plays, whether they’re big plays or small plays, and couple that with untimely breakdowns, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

That lethargy continued for much of the second. Washington couldn’t extend its lead on a power play to open the period and largely didn’t threaten to do so. Ottawa tied the score at 5:40 when Kastelic beat Lindgren with a backhander off the rush; he caught Washington’s defense off-guard and skated past center Dylan Strome and Carlson on his way to the net.

The Senators built their momentum from there.

“Even for two, three minutes when we lose momentum, what experienced teams do is you nip that right away,” Carbery said. “The next line out nips it right away and says: ‘We know what we need to do. We’ve got to manage the puck and stop the momentum.’ … Ours turn into two, three minutes — turned into like an eight-minute stretch in the second period where we were under attack.”

Perhaps inspired by Pacioretty ending his drought, winger Aliaksei Protas ended a 16-game goalless stretch at 17:10 to put Washington back in front. After Korpisalo stopped an initial shot by defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, a big rebound sailed directly to Protas a few feet away with a yawning net.

The Capitals had to kill a penalty early in the third period after Pacioretty was boxed for tripping, an infraction he made up for when he drew a slashing penalty on Ridly Greig just 32 seconds after emerging from the penalty box. But Washington couldn’t convert on its power play despite a flurry of chances, and its one-goal lead began to feel tenuous. Center Connor McMichael then went off for high-sticking at 10:44; the Capitals killed the penalty, but Greig scored from the slot five seconds after the power play ended to tie it at 2.

“We just need to play better,” Carlson said. “I don’t think we’re firing on all cylinders like we were there for a little bit. Too many turnovers, too many mistakes that we shouldn’t be making and giving teams more life than they deserve or need.”

The urgency that Washington lacked for much of the game cropped up after Greig’s equalizer, but it wasn’t enough to produce a winning goal before regulation ended. The Senators won the faceoff to begin overtime and maintained possession until Sanderson wired the game-winner over Lindgren from near the blue line; McMichael appeared to screen his goalie’s view on the play.

The loss deflated the Capitals, who see their runway shrinking with each defeat. Up next is another pivotal game Tuesday night in Detroit. After that, just four remain.

“Going through this stretch, there’s not a lot of games that I go through and there’s structure things that we’re not [doing],” Carbery said. “It’s a lot of individual puck play in just really, really difficult times. You can’t make those mistakes this time of year.”

Note: Defenseman Rasmus Sandin suffered an upper-body injury on a hit from Ottawa’s Parker Kelly as the horn sounded to end the first period. Sandin’s head appeared to hit the glass, and he did not return. After the game, Carbery said Sandin is “going to miss some time.” Kelly’s hit sparked a scrum that led to two roughing penalties against Kastelic and one against Capitals winger Tom Wilson, giving Washington a power play to begin the second period.

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