Coming off a four-day break between games, the Capitals jumped out to a strong start and an early lead on Friday night in St. Louis against the Blues. But they left a number of early scoring chances on the table and couldn't sustain the start, yielding five unanswered goals in a 5-1 loss.
"In the first period, I thought we were an inch off offensively," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "We could have had three or four goals, and it didn't [go in]. Second period was kind of the opposite for them, and they capitalized on theirs. That was the difference in the game."
Washington was buzzing the St. Louis zone from the drop of the puck, and after a couple of narrow misses on their first few shifts, they struck for an early goal.
Mike Sgarbossa won an offensive zone draw, and Trevor van Riemsdyk rolled the puck around the back of the Blues' net. Aliaksei Protas pulled it off the right half wall and teed up Daniel Sprong, who snapped a shot past Ville Husso from the top of the right circle at 2:02.
"Pro made a nice play to the middle," recounts Sprong. "And I know I don't need much time to get it off, and I found the corner."
Sprong's goal came on Washington's fifth shot of the night, and the Caps kept the heat on in the St. Louis end, generating a number of chances and looks that just missed, including two or three prime back-door looks. The Caps poured nine shots on Husso in the first 6:02 of the first period, but managed just one shot on net over the remainder of the stanza.
The Blues pulled even a couple minutes past the midway mark of the opening period. Upon gaining the Washington zone, Robert Thomas circled on the right side, then found a seam and hit Torey Krug cruising down the weak side. Krug patiently crept closer and picked his spot, firing a shot past Ilya Samsonov from the inside of the left circle at 12:10 of the first.
St. Louis struck for three goals in the second to take control of the contest. Just ahead of the midpoint of the middle frame, the Blues took a lead they would not surrender. From the right half wall, Ryan O'Reilly found Marco Scandella on the weak side and fed him. Scandella bumped it for Pavel Buchnevich, whose shot from the slot made it 2-1 at 9:08.
The real backbreakers were the two goals that followed, both of them in the final three minutes of the frame.
First, Brandon Saad pushed the puck up the right-wing wall for Justin Faulk at the right point. Samsonov stopped Faulk's point blast, but kicked the rebound right to Oskar Sundqvist, who put it home at 17:20 to extend the St. Louis lead to 3-1.
Trying to push for some offense in the waning seconds of the second, the Caps misfired on a long pass, and St. Louis started the puck back in the other direction from its own line with six or seven seconds on the clock. The Caps had enough bodies back, but too many of them converged on Buchnevich, who slid the puck to Ivan Barbashev. Barbashev fired from the high slot, scoring with a fraction of a second remaining in the period, and enabling the Blues to carry a three-goal cushion into the third.
Zach Fucale came on in relief of Samsonov at the start of the third, the latter having yielded four goals on 16 shots - including three goals on six shots in the second.
The Caps couldn't cut into the lead on an early power play in the third, and when they got another opportunity with the extra man later in the frame, Laviolette pulled Fucale for an extra attacker. With 3:52 left in the third, Buchnevich scored his second goal of the night, firing into the vacant cage from his own end of the ice to account for the 5-1 final.