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Caps yield five unanswered to Blues in largest losing margin of season, Wilson hits 600-game mark, more

by Mike Vogel @vogscaps /

The Blues Keep Coming - The Capitals are now 35 games into their 2021-22 season, and they have rarely gone into the third period of games down by multiple goals. On a few occasions where they have been down more than a goal heading into the final 20 minutes, they've managed to scrape out a point or two, as they did last Sunday at home against New Jersey in a 4-3 overtime loss.

But digging out of holes can't be habitual, and the Caps dug one that was too deep on Friday night in St. Louis against the Blues. Washington roared out to a strong start and took an early 1-0 lead - on a Daniel Sprong goal at 2:02 of the first period - but it failed to convert on a number of glorious chances in the game's first 10 minutes that might have given it control of the contest early via a multi-goal lead of its own. When St. Louis scored five unanswered in a 5-1 win - the Caps' most lopsided loss of the season to date - it put some light on the chances Washington left on the table early.

"Nobody likes losing a hockey game," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "You've got to get back at it, but it was frustrating tonight. It was quiet. It was a game that didn't have a lot of shots, a lot of chances. But the ones that they got had some quality to them, and the ones we got in the first period had quality to them, and they just didn't go. There are certainly things we can do better defensively to tighten that up."

The game was 1-1 after the first 20 minutes of play, but St. Louis broke it open with three goals on just six shots on net in the middle period. The Blues took the lead for good on a Pavel Buchnevich goal at 9:08 of the second, and the Caps might have had a chance for a point or two if they had been able to keep the Blues close going into the third.

But St. Louis erupted for a pair of late goals in the second, an Oskar Sundqvist goal on a rebound of a point shot, and a real dagger of a goal from Ivan Barbashev, who scored on a shot from the slot with less than a second remaining in the second period. The Blues transitioned and scored that Barbashev goal in a span of six seconds or so from their own blueline, and that goal made the deficit three instead of two heading to the third.

The 600 Club - Caps right wing Tom Wilson appeared in the 600th regular season game of his NHL career on Friday, becoming the fifth-youngest player (27 years, 284 days) in franchise history to achieve the feat and the third-youngest forward behind only Mike Gartner (27 years, 109 days) and Alex Ovechkin (27 years, 220 days).

Wilson made his NHL debut during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, accomplishing the ultra-rare feat of appearing in his first playoff game before ever playing in a preseason or regular season NHL game. He skated in the first of his 600 career regular season games on Oct. 1, 2013 in Chicago.

Wilson is now one of seven players to reach the 600-game plateau while playing exclusively for the Capitals, and he becomes the fifth of those seven players who is still active on Washington's roster, following Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Dmitry Orlov, who achieved the feat a week earlier to the day.

Michal Pivonka and Bengt Gustafsson are the other two players who surpassed the 600-game mark and never played for any other NHL team; Gustafsson played briefly for the WHA version of the Edmonton Oilers before his NHL career began.

"It's pretty cool," says Wilson. "I think it talks about those players and the leadership that they bring to the table. Obviously coming up and having those guys to look up to and seeing them play 600, 700 games plus in a row with one team, it's pretty cool and they're definitely role models of mine. I look up to all those guys a lot, and it's been a great core here.

"Thinking back on the journey, being able to win a Cup and just keep pushing forward here and hopefully bring another one back to Washington is the goal, and I'm very privileged to be part of such a great organization with such great players. It's been a lot of fun."

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears spent Friday night on the road, facing the Crunch in Syracuse in the first game of a busy weekend in which the Bears will play three times in as many days. Hershey's season-high four-game winning streak came to a halt as Syracuse prevailed by a 5-3 count.

Hershey was not able to grab a lead at any point in Friday's contest. After falling down a goal early, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby evened the score for the Bears with his eighth goal of the season on a Hershey power play at 8:37 of the first, Lucas Johansen and Alex Alexeyev assisting.

Down 2-1 heading into the second, the Bears went down two when the Crunch struck for an early goal once again. At 16:33 of the second, Jonsson-Fjallby pulled Hershey within a goal with his second power-play goal of the game, getting help from Cody Franson and Mike Vecchione.

But for the third time in as many period, the Bears yielded a goal in the first three minutes of the frame, taking a 4-2 lead early in the third. Garrett Pilon answered back with his 10th of the season at 3:16 of the third, Joe Snively and Alexeyev assisting. But the Bears couldn't find the equalizer, and a late Syracuse empty-netter accounted for the 5-3 final.

Pheonix Copley (8-6-1) stopped 21 of 25 shots in a losing effort in the Hershey nets.

The 16-10-2-1 Bears host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night at Giant Center.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22:48 in ice time … Carlson, Ovechkin, Sprong, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brett Leason each had three shots on net to lead the Caps … Ovechkin led the Capitals with seven shot attempts … Garnet Hathaway led Washington with four hits and two blocked shots … Mike Sgarbossa won five of six face-offs (83 percent) and Nic Dowd won seven of 11 (64 percent).

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