Washington's six-game winning streak ended on Friday night in the desert with a 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. The Caps fell into a three-goal hole in the first period and they weren't quite able to climb back out of it.
The Caps scored the game's next two goals in the second period to close to within a single goal of the Coyotes, but that was as good as it got for Washington on Friday night. The Capitals' penalty killing outfit - a perfect 15-for-15 in its previous five games - was dented twice in the second half of the second period, putting Washington right back into its three-goal ditch, and that's how the night ended as well.
"We were feeling really good there," says Alzner, referring to the Caps climbing back to within a goal of Arizona. "I don't think we've been scored on too many times off the rush on the [penalty kill]. For them to score two on us like that in similar fashion is unlike us. We had a little bit of a miscue on the neutral zone forecheck that we have, and usually it's pretty solid so it just kind of seemed like one of those days. But it definitely deflated us a little bit."
The loss was also the Caps' second straight to the Coyotes in Arizona, and both games came against a Desert Dogs team that had already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Caps lost 3-0 here in Glendale back on April 2, 2016, when Arizona netminder Mike Smith blanked them on their last multi-game road trip of the season.
Smith was under the weather for Friday night's game, so sophomore Louis Domingue stepped in and started in goal for the Coyotes. Domingue made a career high 45 saves to earn his 10th win of the season.
"Sure did, felt like 48 shots," said Domingue afterwards. "We cleared a lot of pucks in front of the net after my first save. Kept quite a few from the outside and a majority of their shots came from the outside.
"We played a great game. We played like a team that had the lead. We struggled getting the lead and once we had the lead we step back. But, we really played like we had the lead tonight and we did the right things especially in the first and second."
Friday's loss was the Caps' fourth straight road setback to a Pacific Division opponent, and those four losses accounted for all but one of Washington's five regulation losses in the month of March, the most it has suffered in any one month this season.
Not His Night - Three nights after becoming just the third goaltender in NHL history to record 40 or more wins in three straight seasons, Caps goalie Braden Holtby was pulled after permitting three goals on 15 shots in the game's first frame. Philipp Grubauer came on in relief with 6:48 remaining in the first, and he finished the period without facing any shots.
Holtby returned to the net at the start of the second period, and was nicked for six goals on 25 shots for the night. He made some strong stops early in the game while the contest was still close, but was victimized by some breakdowns and turnovers and ended up surrendering six goals in a game for the first time in more than four years, since a Feb. 3, 2013 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center.
Always his own harshest critic, Holtby has a strong track record of bouncing back after subpar starts.
"We obviously didn't start out the way we wanted to," says Holtby, "but that's when the leaders like myself need to step up and make the plays needed to turn the game around. The goals were good goals; the second one I would have liked to have been a little more patient on, but the thing I was most upset about with the way I handled things at the start was rebound control and creating stuff out of nothing. That's where I have to be a calming presence for the team, and I did the opposite. It snowballed from that. That's something that can't happen and I'll be better next time."
A Dozen For Daniel - Caps left wing Daniel Winnik netted Washington's second goal of the game, scoring against his third goal against the Coyotes - one of his six former NHL employers - this season. Five of Winnik's dozen goals in 2016-17 have come at the expense of teams by which he was previously employed.
Winnik's goal was his 12th of the season, a single-season career best for him. He notched 11 goals as a member of the 2007-08 Coyotes and did so again with the 2010-11 Colorado Avalanche.
Helping Hands - Marcus Johansson piled up two more assists on Friday, running his career high helpers streak to five straight games (one goal, nine assists). With 33 assists on the season, Johansson is now three shy of matching his personal single-season standard of 36, established in 2013-14.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears also dropped a three-goal decision on the road on Friday night, absorbing a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Wolf Pack in Hartford.
Pheonix Copley was in goal for the Bears, who managed only 20 shots on net for the game. Hershey will be back in action on Saturday night when it hosts Bridgeport in a critical game; the two teams are separated by a single standings point as they vie for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays came out on the short end of a 4-3 score in a Friday night home game against the Orlando Solar Bears.
Kevin Dufour, Joe Devin and Andrew Cherniwchan scored for South Carolina, supporting goaltender Parker Milner who made 28 saves in a losing effort.
After an off day on Saturday, the same two teams tangle again on Sunday afternoon at North Charleston Coliseum.
By The Numbers - Kevin Shattenkirk led the Caps with 22:04 in ice time and with three blocked shots … Winnik led the Caps with six shots on net and Matt Niskanen led Washington with nine shot attempts … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four hits … Jay Beagle won nine of 13 face-offs (69%) and Nicklas Backstrom won 11 of 17 (65%).