Washington's three-game road tour through Western Canada got off to a dismal start on Thursday night in Vancouver with a 6-2 loss to the Canucks. The Caps were never really in this one; they generated little in the way of a threatening offensive attack while Vancouver had all the offense it would need before the first period was over.
When the Canucks scored their third goal of the first period at 18:43 of the first, the Caps were still stuck on three shots on net, having gone nearly 11 minutes without one in the middle of the period. Five of the six Vancouver goals in the game came from less than 20 feet away. The longest of the six came from 22 feet, and if you laid all six of them end to end, you'd use less than half the length of the ice (85 feet) and exactly the width of the ice.
By contrast, Washington didn't manage a shot on net from inside 20 feet until after the midpoint of the contest, by which time the Capitals were in a four-goal ditch at 4-0. Devante Smith-Pelly's shot from 16 feet out came at 10:43 of the second, the first Washington shot of the night from that close to the cage.
Video: WSH Recap: Penalties cost Caps in loss to Canucks
Washington was playing without Nicklas Backstrom because of an illness that hit the sublime center on Thursday morning. Backstrom, who has played every game in seven of his 11 seasons in the league, missed his first game of 2017-18. His absence made the Caps an easier team to defend; Alex Ovechkin didn't have a shot attempt until the fifth minute of the second period and didn't have a shot on goal until the 16th minute of the middle frame. Ovechkin's first shot on net produced a rebound, and linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the Caps' first goal of the game on that rebound a second later.
The loss leaves the Caps at 4-5-1, and for the first time this season, they are south of what passes for the .500 line in the modern NHL. It's the Capitals' worst start since 2012-13, when they opened that lockout-abbreviated campaign with a 2-7-1 record after 10 games.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 26
Double Whammy - Special teams have been a Washington strong point throughout most of the Barry Trotz administration, but the Caps' last two games have been sorely lacking in that regard.
In Saturday's 4-1 loss to Florida, the Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play (they also permitted a shorthanded goal) and they were 4-for-6 on the penalty kill. The three special teams goals surrendered in that contest were also the difference in the game.
On Thursday in Vancouver, the Caps again were blanked with the extra man, and they once again surrendered multiple goals (three of them) on the penalty kill. This marks the first time in nearly six years that the Caps endured consecutive games in which they were shut down on the power play and they yielded multiple power-play goals in the same contest.
The last time the Caps suffered that indignity was Nov. 17-19, 2011 in back-to-back losses at Winnipeg and at Toronto, respectively. The Caps were 0-for-5 with the extra man and they were 3-for-5 on the kill in a 4-1 loss to the Jets on Nov. 17. Two nights later in Toronto, the Capitals were again 0-for-5 on the power play and they were 2-for-5 on the penalty kill in a 7-1 smacking at the hands of the Maple Leafs.
Four games after the loss to the Leafs, the Caps relieved coach Bruce Boudreau of his duties, replacing him with interim coach Dale Hunter.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | October 27
Bright Spots - The Caps had a late glimmer of light in Thursday night's loss. Playing in his 14th career NHL game and his first of the 2017-18 season, Caps center Chandler Stephenson scored his first NHL goal on Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson with just 2:08 remaining in the game.
Stephenson joins teammates Nathan Walker and Christian Djoos as the third Capital to have scored in his '17-18 season debut. In the cases of both Walker and Djoos, those games were also the NHL debuts for both players.
Moreover, Caps defenseman Madison Bowey earned the second assist on Stephenson's goal, marking the first point of Bowey's NHL career. Both Stephenson and Bowey hail from Western Canada and both had friends and family cheering them on in Vancouver on Thursday.
Video: WSH@VAN: Stephenson nets first goal from sharp angle
The New Wave - For many years now, Vancouver's Sedin twins have been the focal point of the Canucks' offensive attack. But a new Vancouver trio has been heard from in the early going of 2017-18, and it was heard from on Thursday night.
The Canucks' first line of Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser combined for three goals and eight points in Thursday's win over Washington. Those three players - along with the surprising Derek Dorsett - rank among Vancouver's top four scorers this season.
All three were first-round draft picks. At 25, Baertschi is the oldest of the trio. He was Calgary's first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and he came to the Canucks in exchange for a second-round pick in a 2015 NHL trade deadline deal with the Flames.
Vancouver chose Horvat with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 Draft, a pick obtained from New Jersey in a draft day deal for netminder Cory Schneider. The Canucks took Boeser with the 23rd overall choice in the 2015 Draft.
Ten games into the 2017-18 season, the Baertschi-Horvat-Boeser line has combined for 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Capitals with 27:07 in ice time and Kuznetsov led all forwards on both sides with 22:12 … Kuznetsov led the Capitals with six shots on net. He and Carlson and Lars Eller each had seven shot attempts, tied for the most among the Caps … Walker and Tom Wilson each had four hits to lead Washington … Brooks Orpik led the Caps with three blocked shots … Thursday's game marked the third straight game and the sixth game in 10 this season in which the Caps have faced at least five shorthanded situations. Washington has been shorthanded 45 times on the season, fourth most in the NHL. Three teams (Detroit 47, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay 46 each) have been shorthanded more than the Caps, but each of those three teams has also played one more game than Washington.