Washington's three-game road trip started with a promising 3-2 win over the Avalanche in Denver on Thursday, but the Caps will lug home a two-game losing streak after taking a loss at the hands of the Golden Knights by the same score in Las Vegas on Monday afternoon.
Starting on time has been a problem of late for the Capitals, and it has been a constant issue in afternoon games this season. Washington waded its way into the game while the Knights dove into the deep end and got started early. The Caps have been a strong comeback team all season, but they've been digging the holes too deep lately.
Monday's loss is the Caps' sixth in nine games (3-6-0), and in two of their three wins during that stretch, the Capitals needed a furious comeback late in the contest to dig out of a multi-goal ditch.
"The start has not been where we want it, and we're chasing the game far too often lately," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We are able to turn the momentum of the game a little bit with our physicality, and eventually we wear the opposition down in the third, which is why we can have some more success.
"But the mistakes that we're making to start the game are really putting us behind the eight-ball to start with, and then we have to overuse our top guys and spend too much time chasing games right now."
Video: Reirden Postgame | February 17
For the sixth time in their last six games, the Caps yielded the first goal of the contest. Vegas grabbed an early lead, getting a goal from its fourth line on that unit's second shift of the game. William Carrier got behind the Washington defense on the rush, and he wasn't quite able to beat Braden Holtby, as John Carlson swept the puck out of the crease. But seconds later, Carrier took a feed from Tomas Nosek and put it on Nick Holden's blade at the top of the paint. Holden tapped it home for a 1-0 Vegas lead at 3:43 of the first.
Washington didn't have much going on offensively from the start. The Caps didn't get a shot on net from a forward until the 11th minute of the game, and they were mostly one and done on their infrequent forays into the attack zone. Although the Caps finished the first with a dozen shots on net, they were mostly from long distance. The average distance from the net of the Caps' 12 first-period shots was 42 feet.
Late in the first, Vegas added to its advantage. Jonathan Marchessault missed the net on a rush chance, but collected the puck in the right-wing corner and put a feed to the front for Reilly Smith, who chipped it under the crossbar to make it a 2-0 game at 17:17.
The Caps had the game's first power play chance midway through the second period, but they weren't sharp and weren't able to generate a shot on net. A few minutes after completing that kill, the Knights added to their advantage.
Ten seconds after winning an offensive-zone draw, William Karlsson fed Max Pacioretty to make it 3-0 at 14:06 of the middle frame. Pacioretty scored from the bottom of the right circle. That goal loomed large later on when the Caps mustered a bit of a comeback in the third.
Washington's middle period output consisted of six shots on net, with only one of them - a Nic Dowd shot from 23 feet away in the second minute of the second period - coming from inside of 25 feet away. Again the Caps were one and done every time; none of their six second-period shots came within a minute of any of the others.
T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board, making it a 3-1 game with his 23rd goal of the season at 8:47 of the third. From the right dot, Oshie shot it to the shelf behind Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, snapping the veteran's shutout streak at exactly 113 minutes.
Video: WSH@VGK: Oshie rips shot from circle
Carl Hagelin drew a tripping call on Jon Merrill midway through the third - the second minor penalty of the game for the Vegas blueliner - giving the Caps another power play opportunity. This time, they cashed in to close within a goal.
Once again it was Oshie, this time taking a feed from Jakub Vrana and snapping it past Fleury from the diamond spot to make it a 3-2 contest at 10:40 of the third. Plenty of time remained at that point, but the Caps couldn't manufacture the equalizer. The early hole proved to be a goal too deep.
Washington has frittered away most of the standings equity it built up with its swift start early in the season; its Metro Division lead is down to a single point over Pittsburgh, and the Pens have two games in hand on the Caps as well, with three head-to-head meetings remaining.
"Win the next game," says Carlson, when queried as to his concern over the standings. "I think there is a lot that can happen. There is plenty of time left - one way or another - and we've got to pave our own way. No one is feeling bad for us, and we're not feeling sorry for ourselves, either.
Video: Postgame | February 17
"We've got plenty of time left to start playing our brand of hockey that is a lot more intense and upbeat. We'll keep working and find that formula."