For several weeks now, the Capitals have been making their way through the schedule and along the road without a handful of key performers. Despite mounting injuries and a growing number of untested rookies in their lineup, they've managed to keep a steady stream of standings points coming in, picking up at least a point in 16 of their first 18 games.
The Caps' run of success hit a wall on Sunday night in Seattle when they went up against the expansion Kraken for the first time in their history. The trouble started before the game even started when Washington learned it would be playing without T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary. Playing with a makeshift lineup and skating in its seventh game in seven cities in 11 nights, the Caps couldn't get it done, falling 5-2 to the NHL's newest team.
"The game got away from us in about four minutes," laments Caps center Nic Dowd. "And then I thought we actually played really well the rest of the game, and we controlled the game. I think we had 20 shots in the third period, something like that. We had chances to win that game if we hadn't let it get away from us."
Video: Condensed Game: Capitals @ Kraken
For the second time in as many nights, the Caps grabbed an early 1-0 lead by scoring on their first shot on net of the game. Evgeny Kuznetsov shook the puck free from Seattle defenseman Jeremy Lauzon in the corner of the Kraken zone, and he put it to the front for Tom Wilson. From just below the right dot, Wilson beat ex-teammate Philipp Grubauer for a 1-0 Washington lead at 3:34 of the first.
The Caps looked weary early in the first, and Seattle forced them into some icings and some lengthy defensive-zone shifts. Washington needed a number of big saves from Vitek Vanecek as the period wore on. When Kuznetsov was boxed for holding in the offensive zone, the Kraken got the game's first power play opportunity, and they were able to dent Washington's penalty-killing outfit, which had been spotless for the previous eight games. Vanecek stopped the first three shots on the Seattle power play, but Jared McCann finally beat him with a backhander from the slot at 15:58 of the first frame to knot the score at 1-1.
Washington had an early power play opportunity in the second period, but it wasn't able to retake the lead. Soon after, the Kraken erupted for a trio of middle-period goals, putting the Caps in a three-goal hole for the first time in nine games, since Nov. 4 at Florida.
First, Jaden Schwartz gave Seattle a 2-1 lead at 6:17 of the second, scoring on a delayed Washington penalty. Nick Jensen blocked Carson Soucy's left point shot in front of the Caps' net, but Schwartz pounced on the rebound at the back post to open the floodgates.
Seattle scored again on its next shift, making it 3-1 on a 2-on-1 rush. Carrying down the left side, Yanni Gourde fed Adam Larsson going hard to the right post, and the latter chipped it past Vanecek at the seven-minute mark of the second, Seattle's second goal in a span of 43 seconds.
In the back half of the middle frame, the Kraken tacked on a fourth unanswered goal in less than 20 minutes of playing time. Calle Jarnkrok carried into Washington ice and patiently cut to the middle, lined up his shot and picked a corner, beating Vanecek to make it 4-1 at 13:51.
Twice earlier this season, the Caps were down three goals. Both times they rallied to claim a point. Early in the third, Alex Ovechkin scored from the slot to make it 4-2 with his 15th goal of the season at 3:09.
Video: WSH@SEA: Ovechkin rips home shot from the high slot
Less than two minutes later, the Caps had a power play opportunity and a chance to pull within a goal. They had three good looks on the man-advantage, but couldn't get one to go in.
"That would have been big just to keep the momentum going," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "There were a lot of good looks there, and we just couldn't get that next one to push it even further and make it a closer game."
Ovechkin's goal gave the Caps life, and they were pressing hard for the remainder of the night, but Grubauer and the Kraken held off the Washington onslaught; the Caps poured 23 shots on Grubauer in the third but Gourde's empty-netter in the final half minute sealed the deal and gave the Kraken its first win since Nov. 4, halting a six-game slide.
"I thought that they came out strong in the first 10 minutes," says Laviolette of the Kraken. "I thought the second 10 minutes of the first period we fought back. There was a stretch in the second period that didn't go our way.
"And then from there, we're chasing the game. In the third period, I thought we could have we could have won the game. We had enough chances to definitely put up six or seven goals and their goalie made some big saves."