These Important Years - The Caps put a coda on 2019, the decade of the 2010s and the first half of the 2019-20 season on Tuesday afternoon at Capital One Arena against the New York Islanders, taking a 4-3 loss from the visitors.
Coupled with a 6-4 loss in their previous game against the Hurricanes in Carolina on Saturday, the Caps have dropped consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season, a fate already suffered by each of the other 30 teams in the league.
The Caps fell down 2-0 in the first period, but rallied to square the score by the game's first intermission. Washington grabbed a 3-2 lead just 44 seconds into the second period on Evgeny Kuznetsov's second goal of the game, his third goal in the last two games.
Video: NYI@WSH: Kuznetsov dekes into slot, nets second goal
But the Islanders quickly reclaimed the lead with a couple of second-period goals of their own, and the Caps spent the last 27 minutes of the contest trying in vain to muster the equalizer. They outshot the Isles 17-4 and out-attempted them 36-10 in the third period, but still couldn't get the tying tally against former Cap Semyon Varlamov.
The Islanders combined to block 27 shots in front of Varlamov, including 10 in the third period Fifteen of New York's 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot in the game.
"It's great, a great feeling," says Varlamov of the victory. "I don't remember when I won in this building the last time, to be honest with you. It was a long time ago, I think in 2014 or something. So a huge win for me, a big win for the team."
Varlamov was off by a year; his last - and prior to Tuesday, his only - win here as a visiting goaltender came in a 5-1 Colorado win on Oct. 12, 2013. Varlamov made 40 saves in that game; he made 35 on Tuesday afternoon.
The Caps dealt Varlamov to Colorado on July 1, 2011.
With the win, Varlamov improved to 14-3-3 on the season. His 2.43 GAA is his lowest since he fashioned a 2.41 mark for the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14, a season in which he won 41 games and finished second [to Boston's Tuukka Rask] in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in Hart Trophy voting.
I Appear Missing - While Michal Kempny did return to the Washington lineup after missing the previous two games because of illness, the Caps played Tuesday's game without the services of Nic Dowd, who missed the contest to be with his wife, who gave birth to the couple's first child on Tuesday night.
Still feeling some after effects from the illness and not yet at 100 percent, Kempny was limited to 12:59 in ice time on Tuesday, the fourth lowest single-game figure he has recorded in his 124 games with Washington.
Kempny played on the Caps' third pairing with Radko Gudas while Jonas Siegenthaler was elevated to the top pairing alongside John Carlson, a slot he occupied early in the season when Kempny was still rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn hamstring.
"As with all of our minutes, a lot of them were based upon guys not being at their best," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "So to try to manage - and at the end you're seeing where we are at energy wise - a certain player, so for Michal he hadn't skated for six days. [Monday's practice] was first time he skated, and he skated at maybe at 60 percent. For us to make that decision to play him or play player short - and that's not an excuse - we were happy to have him back out there. I hope once he gets healthy we'll start putting them back in that situation with John, and going into the All-Star game and moving past there we get that pair up and running to where they have been in the past."
Video: Reirden Postgame | December 31
Travis Boyd got into a second straight game, filling in for Dowd in the middle of the fourth line. Boyd skated 8:40 on Tuesday's game.
Meet Me Half Way - The Caps reached the midpoint of the season with a 27-9-5 record for a total of 59 points in the season's first half, the best record in the NHL. The 2019-20 Caps have cobbled together the second-best first half in franchise history, trailing only the 2015-16 team that went 31-7-3 for a whopping 65 points in the front half of the campaign.
"Through the first 30 games, I think you saw some good things from us," says Reirden. "In terms of starting to get some signs of the identity that we're looking to establish, we're able to see that in some different ways. I think we've really seen from our fourth line the intensity that they can play with, how they can really affect the game, and that's something we looked for this summer. It's something I felt like we missed tonight, not having Nic Dowd, obviously, with his wife in labor at this point, and I'm not sure of the update on that. So missing him tonight, that line has proved to be a big factor for us.
"And then I think just figuring out how to slot other people in different lines, and we dealt with the injury to Nick [Backstrom] and you know now deal with some of the adversity of guys not being perfect, and we're trying to find our way again. So I think there was some good things, but obviously we're a work in progress. I'm happy with how the penalty kill has improved this year. I can go through each player and share a little bit, but 59 points is something to be happy about. But there's still room for us to grow."
By The Numbers - Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with 23:58 in ice time … Carlson led the Capitals with six shots on net and 14 shot attempts … Orlov and Backstrom led the Caps with three hits each … Siegenthaler led the Caps with four blocked shots … Boyd won four of five draws (80 percent), Backstrom won 11 of 15 (73 percent) and Kuznetsov won 10 of 16 (63 percent).