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Devils Down Caps, 4-1

Flawed first dooms Caps in Wednesday night loss to the Devils

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

Few things fade into the recesses of oblivion faster than NHL exhibition achievements, stats and records. Fortunately for the Capitals, that's a two-way street. Lack of achievements, mediocre stats and dismal records from the preseason also disappear like a wisp of smoke once the regular season arrives. 

Five games into their seven-game preseason slate, the Caps are sitting at 1-4 in the wake of Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena. The game ended the Caps' three-game preseason homestand; Washington dropped all three contests by a combined score of 12-2, and the Capitals have now scored one or no goals in four of their five exhibition outings. Washington has managed two even-strength goals in those five games. 

In Wednesday's loss, the Devils had all the offense they would need before the first television timeout of the first frame. New Jersey scored all four of its goals in the first 15 minutes of the game, and all came in the immediate aftermath of Washington penalties.
Video: WSH Recap: Graovac scores, but Capitals lose, 4-1
"They jumped on us quick," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of the Devils. "We weren't able to execute. They capitalized on opportunities on the power play. But I didn't like our first [period]. I haven't liked our firsts at home here. We have lacked a little bit of intensity and a little bit of energy, and teams have jumped on us. They've come in and jumped on us. We've taken too many penalties, especially in the first. Today, they capitalized on it pretty good and pretty early." 

For Wednesday night's home preseason finale, the Capitals dressed their most representative lineup of their five exhibition contests to date. Number one netminder Braden Holtby got the start in goal, and all four of the Capitals' returning regular defensemen from last season were in the lineup. Washington also dressed all four of its holdover centers and the six players who are likely to comprise the team's top six forward group. 

Only six of the 20 players dressed were among those still scrapping for the remaining berths on Washington's opening night roster.

That group couldn't get anything started in the game's first 20 minutes. Past the midpoint of that frame, Washington had half as many shots on net (two) as the Devils had goals (four). 

Washington's woes began early. Dmitry Orlov went to the box for slashing before the game was even two minutes old, and Devils rookie phenom Nico Hischier made the Caps pay just 35 seconds later when he slipped a shot past Holtby on the short side, shooting from the right dot.

Orlov's penalty and Hischier's goal started a frustrating pattern of recidivism for the Caps.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | September 27
Devils blueliner Will Butcher scored on a wrister from the slot at 5:03, the only Devils goal on the night that went into the books as an even-strength strike. But it came on a delayed Washington penalty; the Caps tripped up one of the white-sweatered Devils just as Jersey was entering Washington ice for what would prove to be the game-winning goal. 

Jimmy Hayes scored a gift of a goal less than a minute after Matt Niskanen went to the box for tripping at 8:24. John Carlson's clearing bid hit Jay Beagle in the back instead, and the puck landed virtually at the feet of Devils winger Jimmy Hayes, who was in the slot. Hayes turned and fired the puck home to make it a 3-0 game at 9:02. 

New Jersey's third power play of the period produced the Devils' third extra-man tally of the frame. Just 23 seconds after Brett Connolly went off for slashing, Drew Stafford scored to make it a 4-0 game. 

The Caps pulled it together over the final 40 minutes, but were able to muster only one goal of their own. Washington's fourth line was perhaps its best unit on this night, and they accounted for the lone Caps' tally early in the second period. 
Video: NJD@WSH: Graovac quickly jumps on rebound and scores
Beagle collected an errant defenseman-to-defenseman pass just inside the New Jersey line, and he carried down low on the right side, noting a wholesale line change over his left shoulder. Beagle lost his shooting angle as he carried deeper, but it was no matter. He put a low, hard shot on net, but it was more of a pass than a shot. Devils goalie Cory Schneider kicked the rebound right onto the stick of the onrushing Tyler Graovac, who quickly fired it into the yawning cage.

Graovac's goal was a nice reward for one of the bright spots of camp. The former Minnesota forward has excelled in each of his three preseason showings, and he should have a roster spot virtually cinched with two exhibition games left.

Graovac's goal was just the seventh Washington goal in five games this fall, and just the second scored at even strength.
Video: Coach Trotz talks to media after #CapsDevils
"The biggest disappointment is we haven't found our game," says Trotz. "Our lineup being full or not, you'd like to see it closer to where it needs to [be]. We do have a lot of faith in the group, in terms of the guys that we have in our locker room and in terms of getting their game ramped up. 

"Everybody from our leadership group to our top players, we have to get some production from our top players, and they know it, too."

Starting a week from Thursday when the Caps open the 2017-18 season in Ottawa against the Senators, bad periods - such as the first period of Wednesday's game - won't be nearly as forgettable.

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