The Washington Capitals have lost six straight games for the first time since January 2014 and have given up seven goals or more in three of their last four games.
Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks, the Caps found a new, more painful way to lose, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Capitals gave up three unanswered goals in crunch time, which included a soul-sucking, last-second goal to Evander Kane that sent the game to overtime.
The devastating 7-6 loss marked a franchise first as well. It’s the first time Washington has lost a game when Alex Ovechkin has scored a hat trick (22-1).
After holding a players’ only meeting in the aftermath of a 8-5 loss to the lowly Blackhawks and a team meeting the very next day, the Capitals responded against the Sharks by giving up a goal in the first 12 seconds of the game. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski buried the puck past Braden Holtby after a triple deflection in front of the net.
The flukey goal would be foreshadowing for what would turn out to be one of the wildest and worst defensive games of the season.
The first period featured three lead changes. On the game’s first shift of the second period, the Capitals’ fourth line surrendered their 3-2 lead, blowing a coverage in front of the net. Evander Kane sent the rebound into the yawing net to tie it up.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin responded with goals, giving the Caps a 5-3 lead, but a blunder by the Russian centerman later in the period gave the Sharks an unfathomable three-on-none breakaway. Logan Couture deposited the puck on his backhand through Holtby’s five-hole, pulling the Sharks within one. The goal halted any of Washington’s momentum.
Until… Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick 5:52 into the third, reclaiming the Caps’ two-goal lead. The game felt secure, but the Capitals found a way to lose.
Tomas Hertl scored a tic-tac-toe power-play goal midway through the period, after John Carlson committed a holding penalty. The Caps clung to a 6-5 lead.
Washington held on until the last shift of the game. After being unable to score on the Sharks’ empty net, the Capitals watched helplessly as Kane scored with less than a second left in regulation.
In overtime, Hertl scored his hat trick goal on a three-on-two odd-man break. The play was set up by a turnover by Alex Ovechkin.
The Capitals surrendered 43 shots on goal and 75 shot attempts to the Sharks in total. All seven Sharks goals were scored below the faceoff dots. The Capitals wilted in front of the net.
“When we’re in the driver’s seat, that’s not the way we need to play to win hockey games,” Braden Holtby said in the locker room. “Obviously, we haven’t been winning much lately. The solution isn’t to open up the game and trade chance for chance.
“It’s a reality check,” he continued. “It’s not good enough to win from me, from all of us, especially in the situation we’re in. It’s a lack of using our experience and a lack of using our preparation to do what we need to do to win. That’s on me too. There are goals I want another chance at too. It’s frustrating.”
A calm but dejected TJ Oshie added that “I’m not even really excited about the extra point. We’ve got to find a way to close that one out.”
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden was blunt.
“That was not Washington Capital hockey,” Reirden said. “Going chance for chance against a team that has that type of firepower, that’s not going to win in the long run. We learned a hard lesson again on that tonight. That’s not acceptable and that’s not going to work in the long run. No way.”
Reirden was asked if the coaching staff’s message was sinking in.
“At points it is, but not enough,” Reirden responded. “The only way we’re getting out of this is if we work our way out of it because that’s where you’re going to really gain something as a team. If we would have won that game, 6-5, it still isn’t the right way to play hockey.”
The Capitals will have one more chance to end their long losing streak — a Wednesday night tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs — before the All-Star Break and their bye. Alex Ovechkin feels the urgency. He will suit up against Leafs and sit out the team’s game against the Calgary Flames next week. Ovechkin was suspended one game for skipping the All-Star Game.
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