The Washington Capitals had their chance seven minutes from the end. All three goals had been scored on the power play and, with Washington scoring the goal and getting ready to take advantage over a man, the crowd cheered on him as a sign of recognition. But Alex Ovechkin's shot was missed, Matt Niskanen was saved, and then T.J. Oshie pulled out. Another Capitals power play at the last minute was just as bad.
One night when special teams and goaltenders were the stars, the top-ranked power play of the Capitals was replaced by the Columbus Blue Jackets unit in a 2-1 loss to Capital One Arena . Goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky was the best player on the ice with 33 saves and Washington's fumble shootout allowed two goals in three games from Columbus.
"At the moment, we can not seem to kill a penalty," Niskanen said. "In a tight match, it hurts."
What had been an equal match in all facets of the match turned in favor of Columbus when defender Dmitry Orlov was called for a tied pass 4:04 in the third period with a draw tied. Niskanen's stick broke and a puck from the ends of the boards landed on Anthony Duclair's stick next to the net. Because Niskanen was unable to obstruct him, Duclair scored from a tight angle and his goal was maintained for the remainder of the match.
Columbus entered the game with the league's worst power play, scoring only 11.9 percent of the time. Washington has allowed four power play goals in the last three games.
"It seems like we're giving up a goal or two almost every game," said center Lars Eller.
"We took a slightly more aggressive approach," Niskanen said. "We disrupted a lot of ice games. On the starters, I think we are doing a good job there. We do not spend a ton of time in the area. These are the broken games that turn into a very good luck and then bury us. When it comes to a sort of 50-50 puck, a battle in the corner, you're a man, so you're open, but we have to show the same strength and toughness. If you can not do everything, you may just need to eat some more and continue to fight and wait for help. But it seems that the broken pieces are catching us now, not the tick-to-toe. "
Coach Todd Reirden has chosen to make few changes to the team structure, but he has revised the Capitals' shorthanded play. Washington has recruited new staff and had to play in the first 15 games without striker Tom Wilson, who is serving a 20-game suspension for an illegal head check and who typically scores many minutes shorthanded.
The Capitals also missed two defensemen with the playoff team. The blue-liner John Carlson is considered daily as suffering from an undisclosed lower body injury. He played more than 28 minutes in the Washington match against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, and Reirden said he hoped Carlson would play Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes. Carlson had started the season on average with a team record of 26 minutes and with five goals and 13 assists he was tied with Alex Ovechkin for the second highest number of points in the team.
Veteran Brooks Orpik missed his fifth consecutive game due to an undisclosed lower body injury. It will miss at least five more after Washington has placed him on the list of long-wounded. The team recalled Aaron Ness and Jonas Siegenthaler from his American Hockey League affiliate on Friday morning, and he made his NHL debut against the Blue Jackets after an impressive training camp.
The wounded had Washington dressing an inexperienced blue line. Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey and Siegenthaler all have less than 100 NHL experience matches, but by not allowing a single goal, a plus point in the loss is that they have done well.
"I obviously liked Siegenthaler's first game," Reirden said. "I thought he had done good things. High minutes for Djoos and Bowey. i thought [forward Jakub] Vrana was effective tonight also as a young player. That's what it's all about at this time of year, getting them into situations where they can play and see where they are so we can evaluate their development. "
Washington made up for its defensive defense by spending most of the first period at the end of Columbus. The Capitals tested Bobrovsky with 15 shots in the first half, but an interference penalty imposed by Evgeny Kuznetsov at 15:28 tipped the scales in favor of Blue Jackets. Oliver Bjorkstrand defeated Washington's Braden Holtby to take a 1-0 lead in the first intermission, deflating due to the quality of his performances.
It was not the last time the penalty shoot-out burned them in the match.
"This is one of the areas where we've had big changes," said Holtby. "But tonight, we were sort of beaten up in a few rooms that we had pre-lit and we knew somehow. That's what we know we can clean up a bit. "