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Caps lose late lead, special teams battle and game, but take three of four points in weekend back-to-back set vs. Metro foes

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Start Me Up - Letting a two-goal lead slip away in the third period against a division rival is never going to feel good, particularly on opening night. So while Carolina's late rally to take a 3-2 overtime win over Washington on Saturday night is going to sting, the Caps are still feeling pretty good about the big picture.

They opened the season with three games in four nights, all against playoff teams from last season, including the defending Cup champs. Despite playing without one of their top two centers (Evgeny Kuznetsov) and a top four defenseman (Michal Kempny), the Caps came away with five of a possible six points from that stretch.

"Always disappointing to be ahead in a game like that, and then see us let them back in it," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And then ultimately, we get the extra point. Five [points] put of six - if you were looking at it to start the year - would be something that would be above average from what we're looking for. I think we did some good things in these three games, and some stuff to grow on."

On Friday night on Long Island, the Caps were diligent and detailed in protecting a 2-1 third-period lead against the Islanders in spoiling New York's home opener. But on Saturday night at home, a wearier Caps team couldn't hold off the Canes in the third.

"I think mentally we just weren't as sharp as we were [Friday] night," says Caps winger T.J. Oshie, who scored his second goal in as many nights against Carolina. "In the third, we got the pucks and we kept getting them deep. On our foreheck, we protected ourselves with our routes so that our [defensemen] could stay aggressive, and I feel like tonight a couple of times the forwards got caught, so the [defensemen] either couldn't pinch or they did pinch, and there was an odd-man rush.

"That team has got a lot of speed, and when they turn pucks over they send four and sometimes five guys in the zone trying to score. So you've just got to be smarter with the puck. It's early, the first back-to-back, so we made some mistakes tonight that we've got a long time to learn from."

Video: Postgame | October 5

The schedule doesn't ease up anytime soon, if ever. Each of the next five are also against playoff teams from last season, but they get Kuznetsov back for their net game - on Tuesday against Dallas - and they hope Kempny won't be far behind.

Power Outage - One of the frustrating aspects of Saturday night's setback was the Caps' performance on the power play. They iced the puck at least three times with the man advantage, their zone entries were routinely denied, and they rarely established possession and were able to generate anything in the way of strong scoring opportunities. Their best power play showing came in overtime when they had a 4-on-3 advantage and narrowly missed netting the game-winner.

Getting Kuznetsov back in the lineup should help in that regard.

"He is obviously a superior player in the league," says Reirden of Kuznetsov. "We've seen his best a couple of years ago to help us win a Stanley Cup, so he can do a number of different things for us. You miss a player like that, certainly."

Washington did score a power-play goal in each of its first two games of the season, but the unit hasn't shown the overall sharpness and lethal precision it has displayed consistently over the last decade or so. That said, it's also a small sample size, and Kuznetsov is a big part of that unit, particularly in terms of entering the offensive zone.

"They got the better of us tonight," says Oshie of the Carolina penalty killing outfit. "We'll learn from it. The Kuz man is coming back here, and I imagine he steps into that spot down there, and hopefully we can get some chemistry going."

On The Board - Fourth-liners Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway combined to score the Caps' first goal of the game late in the first period of Saturday's game. Leipsic got in on the forecheck and forced a turnover, and Hathaway beat Carolina goalie James Reimer with a well-placed shot to the far corner of the cage. It marked the first points for both players in their Caps debuts in front of the home folks.

"We were getting a lot of chemistry," says Hathaway of his line. "You could see these last few games it was building up and we were getting some momentum, so it's sticking with it. Every day you're picking up a different aspect of how the other guy plays, and I think we'll keep getting better."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 5

Down On The Farm - In their season opener at Giant Center on Saturday night, the AHL Hershey Bears came out on the short end of a 4-3 score against division rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Making his pro debut, 19-year-old Caps defensive prospect Alexander Alexyev wasted no time in making his mark. He scored his first pro goal on his first shift, tallying at 1:02 of the first with help from Garrett Pilon and Erik Burgdoerfer, staking the Bears to an early 1-0 lead.

The Baby Pens scored twice in the first to take a 2-1 lead, but Christian Djoos tied the game at 15:35 of the first, with Shane Gersich and Philippe Maillet drawing the assists.

Hershey was trailing 4-2 late in the third when veteran Matt Moulson notched his first goal of the season on a Bears power play at 18:41 with help from Pilon and Mike Sgarbossa.

Vitek Vanecek got the start in goal for Hershey, and he stopped 26 of 30 shots he faced in a losing effort. The Bears are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they host the Providence Bruins at Giant Center.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:40 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 10:43 of Washington's total of 11:26 in power play time on the night, and Carlson logged 10:17 in power play ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net and 13 shot attempts … Nick Jensen, Dmitry Orlov, Nic Dowd, and Tom Wilson had three hits each to lead Washington … Leipsic led the Caps with two blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller each won 10 of 15 face-offs (67 percent) in the game.

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