Twice on Saturday night in Los Angeles, the Capitals owned a one-goal lead over the host Kings. Twice, they weren't able to keep it.
As the midway point of the third period approached with the two teams tangled in a 2-2 deadlock, the Capitals had held Los Angeles without a shot on goal for more than 14 minutes.
Video: WSH Recap: Oshie, Vrana score in 4-2 road loss
Rookie Adrian Kempe ended that Los Angeles shot drought when he sniped a shot past Washington netminder Philipp Grubauer for his first goal in the NHL at 8:46 of the third. Kempe's strike stood up as the game-winner as the Kings added a late empty-netter for a 4-2 win, their seventh in a row over Washington at Staples Center.
"There was a lot of time left in the game," recounts Kempe. "I think it was an important goal. It's a really great feeling. Obviously, it was a really good feeling.It was a big one too, so it was an extra good feeling."
For the Capitals, Saturday's setback was their third in a row, all by the same 4-2 count. Washington has now dropped three straight regulation games for the first time in more than two years, since Feb. 22-27, 2015.
Video: Caps players talk after #CapsKings
"We could have won that game," laments Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "We had our chances to score, not a ton of them, but we hit some posts. We didn't generate quite enough, and we didn't keep enough out of our net."
Washington scored the game's first goal on an early power play opportunity before the game was five minutes old. Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams combined to keep the puck in the Los Angeles zone, and Williams pushed it out to Kevin Shattenkirk at center point. Shattenkirk executed a perfect slap pass to Jakub Vrana who was stationed just off the paint on the left post side. Vrana redirected it past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for a 1-0 Caps lead at 4:35 of the first frame.
Shortly after the midway point of the first, the Caps successfully killed off a T.J. Oshie slashing minor. Seconds later, Washington got its second power play of the game, but that advantage turned out to be short-lived when Shattenkirk was sent off for tripping just 20 seconds later.
After the Caps killed off the residual Los Angeles power play, they were guilty of two icing violations in short succession. Because Shattenkirk came out of the box during that span, the Caps had three defensemen on the ice for both of the resulting defensive zone draws.
Washington wasn't quite able to execute a clear high in the zone along the right wing wall, but it was able to get Brett Connolly on for Shattenkirk at that point. Unfortunately for Washington, the Kings' Anze Kopitar was able to dangle his way down the middle of the ice and snap a shot off from the slot. Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer made the stop, but he paddled the rebound further out into the slot where Marian Gaborik collected it and quickly whipped it past the Washington goalie to make it a 1-1 game at 15:30 of the first.
"I tried to get it away from their stick as far as possible," says Grubauer. "I didn't see the guy (Gabroik) coming in up high."
In the first minute of the second, Washington regained the lead. Marcus Johansson skated the puck into L.A. ice and managed to get a shot off in thick coverage. Quick made the stop, but the rebound came right out to Oshie, who potted it to lift the Caps to a 2-1 lead at the 47-second mark of the middle frame.
But that turned out to be the high water mark of the night for Washington.
With Shattenkirk again in the box for delay of game (puck over glass) in the second period, Los Angeles pulled even on the power play. Kopitar drove the net just as Jeff Carter was releasing a shot from the left dot, and the former tipped it past Grubauer to make it a 2-2 game at 7:20 of the second.
Two minutes later, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom hit the goalpost. On the very next shift, Vrana hit the goalpost as well.
Washington lamented those near misses afterwards, but that's all they are on the scoresheet is missed shots. They just happened to miss by less than the other 14 misses.
Video: Trotz talks after a 4-2 loss in Los Angeles
"I thought there were a couple things where we were a little bit unlucky," says caps coach Barry Trotz. "We hit a couple posts. We could have been up 4-2 in the second period and it comes out 2-2.
"The Kings scored the third one, but I thought it was an even game. The compete was good, goals were not coming. We're going to have to score more than two goals."
Kempe's first goal was a beauty. He dipped and darted along the right wing half wall, shaking off a couple of Washington defenders in the process. Kempe then carried toward the right dot, where he unleashed a shot that beat Grubauer on the short side with Trevor Lewis providing a screen in front.
Kempe's goal ended a stretch in which the Kings went 14 minutes and 18 seconds without recording a shot on net.
Washington shot itself in the foot twice late in the game, taking a pair of needless penalties that short-circuited any chance the Caps might have had to pull even with the extra attacker.
The Caps had their share of puck possession and time in the offensive zone, but they didn't generate a commensurate amount of shots and scoring chances.
"We had the puck a lot tonight, but possessing it and then generating scoring chances are two different things," notes Niskanen. "We're going to have to find a way to either shoot from the perimeter and then go for rebounds, or fight our way to the interior a little bit more to be a little bit more dangerous. We did have to puck a lot, but a lot of perimeter stuff. We've got to get to the slot if we want to score a little bit more."
Scoring a little bit more is what's needed here. For the first time in the Barry Trotz era, the Caps have been held to two or fewer goals in five straight games.