Through the first quarter of the 2019-20 season, the Caps have been good at bouncing back from deficits and adversity, and they've gotten and created their fair share of bounces as well. But on Wednesday night in New York, the bounces weren't there and Washington suffered its first regulation road loss in more than a month, 4-1 to the Rangers.
The Caps were down only 1-0 going into the third, but back-to-back penalty kills proved to be too much, and Artemi Panarin's scored his second power-play goal of the night at the end of the second of those kills, doubling the New York lead. The dagger came on the next shift, when Filip Chytil set up Pavel Buchnevich's rush goal, the Rangers' second tally in a span of just 23 seconds.
"The first period, there really wasn't a lot of rhythm to the game - some icings and some failed execution from us," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Then we give up the goal early [in the second], and then I liked our second period. We started to make a pretty good push, and beat the goalie a few times, but were unlucky with four or five posts. That's the way the game goes."
Washington brought some physicality in the first, and it got the best of the Rangers in terms of territory and possession as well. Tom Wilson led the Caps with five first-period hits, but in the final minute of the frame, officials decided his hit on New York defenseman Libor Hajek was a boarding violation, and he was boxed.
The New York power play carried over into the second period, and with 13 seconds remaining on the advantage, Panarin scored from the left circle to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 1:14 of the second.
Again in the middle frame, the Caps were buzzing the New York zone, and again the managed to create scoring chances. They also kept peeling paint off the goalposts, hitting iron for the fourth time in the game on their first power play opportunity of the game midway through the middle stanza.
"As soon as we got the puck in their zone, we were having some good looks," says Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov. "But it's pretty tough when you hit a couple of posts on the road, and they got those couple of goals on the power play. It's a little bit tough."
Down just a goal headed to the third, the Caps figured to be in good position. They've forged several comeback wins this season and they own one of the league's best records when trailing after 40. But on this night, they were playing for the sixth time in 10 nights - with travel after all six - and they were missing four regulars from their lineup. The fresher Rangers had been idle since Saturday, and they never trailed on this night.
After New York scored those two quick goals early in the third, Washington broke Henrik Lundqvist's shutout bid when Kuznetsov scored a power-play goal at 7:24 of the third.
The Rangers restored their three-goal lead just over six minutes later when Brett Howden was left alone in front. From the right wing corner, Buchnevich fed Howden, and he beat Holtby to close out the scoring.
"I know it was 3-0 at one point," says Rangers coach David Quinn, "but that team, they can score three goals in a hurry. I think we did a good job of managing that; I thought we did a good job understanding the situation. They get the power-play goal to make it 3-1, and we come back to make it 4-1. I think that's a great sign."
For Washington, Wednesday's loss was its first in regulation on the road in more than a month, ending a nine-game road run (8-0-1) with at least a point in every game.
"We gave up two goals on the penalty kill," says Reirden, "and that's the first time all year we've done that. That ends up being a deciding factor. But it's our second road loss [in regulation], and there were some points where we thought we could stay in that one, but we weren't able to scratch and claw our way back into this one."