Results matter very little in preseason hockey. The games are amore about veterans shaking off rust and kids vying for jobs than wins and losses. That said, the Capitals are not used to losing four straight games at any time of year, nor are they used to scoring a total of just three goals over a four-game stretch.
The Caps hopped an early morning flight to St. Louis for a matinee match against the Blues on Sunday, the exhibition finale for both sides. Washington was able to author a 4-3 come-from-behind win that halted the aforementioned preseason slide, sending the Caps into the regular season with a bit of a better feeling than they've had through much of training camp.
Video: Caps end the preseason on a high note
Washington entered the third period down a goal and down two men, but the Caps navigated their way through that penalty trouble, as well as one more minor midway through the third. At the other end of the ice, John Carlson scored the tying goal early in the third and Brett Connolly fired home the game-winner with 4:26 left as Washington scored on two of its three shots on net in the third period.
"It takes a little bit of the pressure off," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of the victory. "We had some guys step up today, and we scored four goals. We were really resilient after the second period, when we dug ourselves a hole.
"I thought in the first 10 minutes we did a really good job in this building. Obviously and early morning [flight], we got here and traveled early and your routines are off a little bit. But I liked the way we played the first 10 minutes and even the first period. We only gave them four shots [on goal]. They didn't have much going on."
Video: Coach Trotz talks after a 4-3 win in St. Louis
Washington earned the game's first power play opportunity at 2:21 of the first, but the Caps couldn't get anything started with the extra man. Seconds after the first television timeout of the frame, the Caps took a 1-0 lead. Lars Eller won a left dot face-off in the offensive zone, drawing the puck back to Brett Connolly, who fired on net. St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen made the stop but Washington winger Tom Wilson beat him to the rebound, chipping the puck between the goaltender and the near post for a 1-0 Caps lead at 8:29 of the first.
That 1-0 lead was Washington's first in five games, but it was short-lived. Just over three minutes after Wilson's tally, Wade Megan evened it for the Blues. Megan and Dmitry Orlov collided awkwardly in the left wing corner of the Washington zone. Both players went down, but Megan got to his feet first as the official's arm went up to signal an impending call on Orlov. But Megan made that a moot point when he carved toward the net and lifted a backhander past Braden Holtby to make it a 1-1 game at 11:34.
St. Louis took its first lead of the game at 5:03 of the second period. The Caps were in the midst of a sustained offensive zone shift when Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo blocked a T.J. Oshie shot, sparking a transition. St. Louis forward Dmitrij Jaskin skated into Washington ice on an odd-man break, but rather than make a play, he called his own number and snapped a shot past Holtby for a 2-1 Blues lead at 5:03 of the middle frame.
Less than three minutes later, the Caps pulled even. Devante Smith-Pelly made a strong play along the left wing wall to keep the puck in the St. Louis zone. He then went to the net, where he was able to put a backhander home on a goalmouth scramble after Allen made the stop on Matt Niskanen's drive from the right point. Smith-Pelly's second goal of the preseason came at 7:55, making it a 2-2 game.
Penalties have been problematic for Washington this fall, and the middle stanza was a mess of infractions both minor and major. The Caps took four minors and a major in the second, with Wilson taking the major - and a game misconduct - for boarding Sam Blais at 17:39 of the second.
Washington nearly escaped all of that middle stanza penalty trouble unblemished, but Blais intercepted a soft pass from Brooks Orpik to Carlson behind the Washington net, and quickly issued a sweet set-up for Brayden Schenn's goal from the slot, lifting the Blues to a 3-2 lead at 13:45 of the second.
St. Louis had a four-on-three power play for 55 seconds and a five-on-three for 65 seconds late in the second and early in the third, but was unable to add to its lead.
Video: Devante Smith-Pelly talks after #CapsBlues
"The penalty to Wilson and then the five-on-three, that was a huge kill for us," says Trotz. "If they score there, they probably find a way to win that hockey game."
At 3:40 of the third, Carlson took a feed from Alex Ovechkin and curled toward the slot. From there, he was able to get off a backhand shot that beat Allen.
Carlson's first goal of the preseason set the stage for Connolly's late game-winner. Smith-Pelly sprung Connolly into the zone with a nifty pass, and Connolly's shot eluded Allen on the glove side to put the Caps on top.
The Blues pulled Allen for the final 129 seconds of the game, but the Caps played the five-on-six well and got out of town with their second win in seven preseason contests.
With a goal and an assist as well as some strong work on the penalty kill, Smith-Pelly was a standout in Sunday's finale.
"We want to be feeling good going into the first game," says Smith-Pelly, "and I think tonight a lot of guys were happy with how they performed. A lot of guys are happy with how they feel going into the regular season, where it really counts.
"I enjoyed it, I felt good, the team felt good, and it was great."