The flight to the coast on Tuesday was fine. Practice on Wednesday at the University of British Columbia was good. But on Thursday morning, things took a southerly turn for the Capitals at the morning skate, and that's how the rest of the day went, too. Washington's three-game trip through Western Canada got off to an inauspicious start with a 6-2 thumping at the hands of the Canucks in Vancouver.
"We didn't play the right way," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. "I think we're afraid to do something out there. It starts from the leaders, and obviously we took penalties and they scored. We didn't bounce back."
Video: WSH Recap: Penalties cost Caps in loss to Canucks
Veteran center Nicklas Backstrom - who has played the full regular season schedule in seven of his 10 full seasons in the league - wasn't able to take the ice for the Caps' Thursday morning skate because of an illness. Backstrom was no better by game time, and Chandler Stephenson - called up from AHL Hershey two days earlier, was pressed into service in Washington's top six.
Regardless of who was in or out of the lineup, the Caps aren't going to win many games with a performance like they exhibited in the first period of Thursday's game.
Washington looked slow and out of synch. Passes weren't crisp, and pucks weren't managed properly. Rare forays into the offensive zone were one and done, or none and done. The Caps went nearly 11 minutes without putting a shot on net at one point. The Canucks, playing their first home game after a successful five-game road trip in which they went 4-1-0, took full advantage and went up 3-0 before the first intermission.
The Caps were okay for the first couple of minutes of the game - when they registered half of their first-period total of four shots on net - but the Canucks went up 1-0 when Thomas Vanek batted the puck out of midair and past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby at 12:53 of the first.
Less than a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov's tripping penalty put the Caps down a man for the second time in the frame, and this time Vancouver made good with the extra man. Brock Boeser took a shot from the point, and Holtby made the stop. But Vancouver's Sven Baertschi got to the rebound first, and he sent a nifty backhand dish to Bo Horvat, who tapped the puck into a wide-open Washington cage for a 2-0 lead at 15:03.
Vancouver won a neutral zone draw in the penultimate minute of the first, and the Canucks dumped the puck into the Washington end. Caps defensemen Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson weren't able to execute a simple exchange below their own goal line, and the Canucks' Derek Dorsett was able to pick it off and center for Markus Granlund, who snapped it past Holtby for a 3-0 lead at 18:43 of the first.
Each of the three Vancouver goals in the first period came from 22 feet or closer to the net, and each of Washington's four shots on net in the first came from a distance of 37 feet or greater from the net.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | October 27
"I thought the first eight minutes we were fine," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his team's first period performance. "Then I thought we started getting loose with the puck. The first goal, we sort of whack at the puck but don't really make a play, and we don't get it out of the zone. They get it in zone, they throw it back at the net, it bounces around and ends up in the back of the net. Then they get a power play and score on that.
"I thought almost the first half of the period we were fine, and then it sort of got away from us. We got loose with the puck, we didn't manage it well and the game got away from us a little bit."
It did; the Canucks had all the offense they would need on this night in the first 20 minutes.
Caps winger Brett Connolly left the game after his first shift of the second period. Connolly absorbed a hit from Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Connolly went straight to the bench and then to the room afterwards, and he did not return to the game. He underwent the league's concussion protocol and is day-to-day with an upper body injury, according to the Capitals.
Washington winger T.J. Oshie hit the short side pipe at 6:52 of the second, the Capitals' best scoring chance of the game to that point. It turned out to be the first of at least three pipes the Caps caught on this night.
Vancouver made it a 4-0 game before the middle stanza was half over, getting a Baertschi goal on a Canucks power play at 9:41 of the second.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 26
With exactly five minutes left in the second, Dorsett scored a wraparound goal, ending Holtby's night. The Caps goaltender was beaten five times on 22 shots in 35 minutes of work, and he yielded the net to Philipp Grubauer at that point of the contest.
Seventeen seconds after the Canucks made it a 5-0 game, the Caps responded with a Kuznetsov goal, a putback of the rebound from an Alex Ovechkin shot. Kuznetsov's goal - his first of the season - ended Anders Nilsson's bid for a second straight shutout, and a third in his last four starts.
Baertschi made it a 6-1 game with his second goal of the game at 10:29 of the third. That goal was the Canucks' third power-play tally of the game.
Video: WSH@VAN: Stephenson nets first goal from sharp angle
Playing in his first NHL game of the season and filling in for Backstrom, Chandler Stephenson closed out the scoring when he netted his first NHL goal with 2:08 remaining in regulation. Stephenson shot from below the goal line on the left side, and the puck snuck through Nilsson to give the rookie center his first goal in the league.
Missing Backstrom was a tough break for the Caps, who've had more than their share of those in the early going. Things don't get any easier on the road ahead, either. The Caps will now be tasked with two games in as many nights on the road this weekend, at Edmonton and at Calgary. Washington will need to pull three of those potential four points this weekend in order to break even in the season's first month.