The Caps don't see much of Connor Hellebuyck, and that's probably a good thing. The Jets goaltender stopped all 34 shots he faced on Thursday night at Winnipeg, leading his team to a 3-0 victory over Washington in the back half of a home-and-home set between the two teams. The Caps took the opener on Tuesday night in D.C., prevailing 4-3 in a shootout.
"We were a little slow to move the puck - I felt - in the first 10 minutes," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Our execution - if we don't move it quick - teams get into structure, and then they're able to go back without as much pressure as we wanted to have tonight on them.
"For me, that has always got to be a key for us, quicker puck movement and being able to establish our forecheck. We had some surges of it, but not consistent like we were for the first 38 minutes of the game [Tuesday] night."
Less than half a minute after the initial television timeout in the first frame, Winnipeg got all the offense it and Hellebuyck would require on this night. The Jets won a draw in the Caps' end and went to work, eventually getting the puck out to the left point for a Dmitry Kulikov slapper that had eyes, finding its way behind Washington goaltender Ilya Samsonov at 6:33 of the opening stanza.
A couple minutes later, the Caps found themselves in a desperate situation, facing down a 5-on-3 Winnipeg power play for 115 seconds, and doing so with a pair of its penalty-killing blueliners - Brenden Dillon and Radko Gudas - in the box. The Caps were able to navigate their way through that morass with a good bounce or two, a key stoppage or two, and a couple timely clears.
Video: Reirden Postgame | February 27
"We do a great job with our three on five [penalty kill]," says Reirden. "Usually if you can get through that scenario, then things tilt in your favor as the game goes on."
That didn't happen for the Caps on this night.
Washington didn't generate much of an attack in the first, but started to get going in the middle period. That's when Hellebuyck flashed the right pad to deny Alex Ovechkin from point blank range, beat Lars Eller at the right post on a back door bid, and caught a break when Jakub Vrana got loose and beat the Jets goalie on the rush, only to ring his shot off the crossbar.
Late in the second, the Caps had two consecutive power play opportunities virtually back-to-back - their first man-advantage opportunities of the night - but they weren't able to cobble together the equalizer. Ilya Kovalchuk had one of the best chances during that stretch, but Hellebuyck gloved his one-timer from the left dot.
Washington had another power play early in the third, but again was unable to get the game tied up.
"We had the two back to back power plays where we weren't able to convert," says Reirden. "I just thought their goalie played well. And that being said, we could have made it more difficult on him with more net traffic, more net presence, delivered a few more pucks; and then when we had the opportunity, make him go laterally.
"You think about some of the chances we had where we had some open net, and had some breakaways and some opportunities and he made some good saves. Sometimes you have to give him credit, but I'd like to have our number of chances to be at a higher number than it was tonight."
A couple minutes ahead of the midpoint of the third, the Jets doubled their lead with a top line tally.
Kyle Connor put the puck into the right-wing corner and Mark Scheifele went in and won the battle for it, quickly issuing a centering feed to the front, where Connor lurked with just enough time and space to pull the trigger and beat Samsonov, giving the Jets a 2-0 lead at 7:20.
Seeking to stretch its modest winning streak to three, the Caps didn't play poorly, but they didn't generate enough traffic to take away Hellebuyck's eyes, or enough second-chance opportunities to test Winnipeg's depleted defense.
Scheifele accounted for the 3-0 final with an empty-netter with 1:28 left, handing the Caps their fourth straight road loss and leaving them with a subpar 4-7-1 record to show for their dozen-game February slate.
Hellebuyck improves to 4-2-1 lifetime against Washington, and he has a 1.81 GAA and a .939 save pct. in seven career appearances against the Capitals.
Video: Postgame | February 27
"It was maybe it's one of those games where it's the little things," says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. "We know we can be better. Even when there's a good goalie in there, not scoring any goals isn't a good job and you've got to find a way to get in front of him or make it more difficult, or bear down on our chances. So it happens.
"I thought we played together for the most part, but there were a few shifts where just little things cost us and we'll move forward from it."