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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Canucks 2, Caps 1 (SO)

Caps lose two straight for first time in more than a month, Vrana opens scoring again, shootouts becoming prevalent, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Start Me Up - Scoring first and scoring early is generally a benefit in the NHL. While comebacks from multi-goal deficits have been more prevalent this season, getting an early lead and adding to it/maintaining it are reliable indicators of success in the league.

For the eighth time in 25 games this season, Washington scored the first goal of the game in the first five minutes of the contest on Saturday afternoon against Vancouver. And for just the second time in those eight occurrences (6-0-2), the Caps didn't come away with the win.

Jakub Vrana staked Washington to a 1-0 lead at 2:22 of the first against Vancouver, but not only were the Caps unable to build upon or expand that lead, they weren't able to get another puck behind goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who entered the game winless in eight career appearances (0-7-1) against Washington. Not only did Markstrom shutout the Caps over the remainder of regulation and overtime, he blanked them in seven straight shootout tries, too.

At afternoon's end, the Caps were on the wrong side of a 2-1 shootout decision, unable to take advantage of an equally excellent 32-save performance from Braden Holtby in the Washington nets.

"For parts of the game, both teams were shutting each other down really well," says Caps center Lars Eller, who assisted on Vrana's goal. "And then towards the second half of the game, there were lots of chances on both sides that could have resulted in goals, especially for us.

"It didn't happen. That little bounce or execution or whatever it was that was lacking today to get that second goal. I think we did a lot of good things, though, just not enough today."

Video: Postgame | November 23

Saturday's loss is the Caps' second in succession (0-1-1), the first time they've lost two in a row in more than a month. The setback leaves the Caps with a pedestrian 6-2-4 record on home ice this season. Five of the six home victories came in succession, from Oct. 16-Nov. 9.

First Glimmer - Vrana's goal on Saturday was his 11th of the season, and the third time this season he has scored the game's first goal, tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov for tops on the team. Six of Vrana's 11 goals have been Washington's first goal of the game, and he leads the Caps in that department.

Shoot Out The Lights - Saturday's game marked the fifth time this season - and the fourth time in seven games - that the Caps have gone to the shootout. They've split those last four shootout decisions, and are 3-2 on the season. All five of their shootouts have come in the last 13 games.

The Caps faced only five shootouts all of last season, and were in only one such game in their last 50 contests of 2018-19. The season before, they had only four shootouts.

In Saturday's shootout, the Caps didn't have the services of Nicklas Backstrom, long a top-three shootout mainstay. The skills competition went seven rounds, and defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, respectively, were chosen ahead of the rest of Washington's forward corps. Vancouver went with forwards for each of the seven rounds.

After the game, Caps coach Todd Reirden was asked about his shootout strategy, and how much of it becomes "hunch" once you get beyond the usual trio that takes the first three rounds.

"You practice it," says Reirden. "Some guys have done well in practice, so you go to that a little bit. Then it becomes a hunch a little bit there as well. Guys that you think have gone before in that situation, there is pressure in those situations as well. But it's a little bit of hit or miss on that. Like I said, Braden saved more than enough for us to try to get both points out of that game."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | Nov 23

Washington's all-time single-season high is a whopping - and inhumane - 21 shootouts in 2013-14, the last season before the league mercifully instituted 3-on-3 overtime. The Caps' lowest shootout total for a full 82-game season (they had only three in the lockout campaign of 2012-13) is four in 2017-18.

Streak Stopped - Carlson's eight-game point streak and eight-game assist streak both came to a halt on Saturday. During the life of the streak, Carlson had a goal and 12 assists.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road Saturday, where they suffered a 3-2 loss to the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport.

Back home in Central Penn., however, the Bears suffered a far greater loss with the passing of longtime abc27 Sports Director Gregg Mace on Saturday.

In a business where most move about from city to city and station to station, Gregg was with abc27 for four decades. He was as much a fixture at Bears games, where we would regularly see him during our occasional forays up that way to cover Hershey games, and we covered several Calder Cup Final series alongside him over the years.

Always friendly, welcoming, and professional, Gregg was always helpful at getting us caught up to speed with the latest from Hershey whenever we encountered him, which was never often enough. He was a master of his craft, and he loved what he did, and those qualities were always evident even to those of us who didn't know him as well as we would have liked.

Gregg will be missed, and his legacy not forgotten. Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family, wife Caroline and son Kyle, who began following in his father's footsteps at an early age and is a formidable sports journalist in his own right.

In Saturday's game, Hershey twice led by a goal but wasn't able to expand its lead. Martin Fehervary's third goal of the season gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at 9:21 of the first, Colby Williams and Matt Moulson assisting.

After the Sound Tigers tied it, Joe Snively gave Hershey a 2-1 lead at 5:02 of the second with a solo assist from Riley Sutter. The helper was Sutter's first professional point. But Bridgeport scored twice in the second to take a 3-2 lead to the final frame, and the Bears weren't able to muster an equalizer. Pheonix Copley stopped 22 of 25 shots in the Hershey nets, falling to 4-5-3-1 on the season.

Saturday's loss extended Hershey's road slide to six straight games (0-4-1-1). The 8-7-2-2 Bears are back in action on Sunday afternoon against the P-Bruins in Providence.

Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 3-0 road win over the Everblades in Florida. Mark Cooper scored twice - including the game-winner just 16 seconds into the first period - and Max Novak added a goal in support of the 30-save efforts of Parker Milner (7-0-0-0) in the Stingrays nets.

The Stingrays are idle until next Saturday when they visit the Solar Bears in Orlando. South Carolina is 13-2-0-0 on the season, leading second-place Florida by four points in the ECHL's South Division.

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 27:19 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net and a dozen shot attempts … Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson each had seven hits to lead Washington … Wilson led the Caps with three blocked shots … Eller and Kuznetsov each won 11 of 16 draws (69 percent) in Saturday's game.

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