Pacific Northwestern Blues - Back on Nov. 10, the Caps departed the District for Detroit to start a rather wicked stretch in which they would play seven games in seven cities in a span of 11 nights. Already missing several key players at that early stage of the season, they would start an untested rookie goaltender making his NHL debut against the Red Wings the following night in the Motor City, and they would go on to lose a couple more players to varying ailments along the way of that 11-day grind, which came to a merciful end in Seattle on Sunday night.
If you told the Caps before they embarked upon this stretch that they'd come out of it with a 5-1-1 record, they'd have happily signed up for such an outcome. Washington's first ever trip to Seattle ended in a 5-2 defeat on Sunday night at Climate Pledge Arena - the team's first loss by more than a single goal this season - but despite heading home on the heels of that setback in Seattle, this still feels like a triumphant trip now that it's all said and done.
"Through it all," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette, "I thought that they were on point with trying to make sure that this team keeps moving forward to win hockey games, the guys that are putting on the jersey each night, whoever that might be. They're trying and they're working. Even tonight, we faced a little bit of adversity and I thought the guys pushed right to the end. Literally, right to the end. It didn't go our way."
It didn't, but the Caps did get the early jump on their hosts when Tom Wilson scored on Washington's first shot on net of the night, matching Conor Sheary's feat from the previous night in San Jose. But while Washington nursed that early lead to completion in a 4-0 win over the Sharks on Saturday, the Caps couldn't sustain anything in the early going on Sunday. And kudos to the Kraken for that.
Seattle played a textbook game against an opponent that played and traveled the previous night, forechecking the Caps tenaciously and forcing some early icings and some long defensive-zone shifts for Washington. By the end of the first, Seattle had pulled even. In the second, it took control of the contest.
Jaden Schwartz scored on a delayed penalty in the front half of the middle frame, and Adam Larsson followed with another goal on a 2-on-1 rush just 43 seconds later to give ex-Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer all the support he would require on this night. Calle Jarnkrok scored a fourth unanswered Kraken tally late in the second, putting the Caps down three goals for the third time in 19 games this season.
On each of the previous two occasions that the Caps were down three pucks this season, they rallied to force overtime and secure a standings point. They weren't able to do so on Sunday, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Washington mounted a 23-shot attack on the Kraken in the third, but Grubauer and his mates held firm to end a six-game skid.
"I like the way we fought in the third period, though," says Laviolette. "It's disappointing to lose the game, but I like the way we fought."
Change Gonna Come - Caps winger T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup on Saturday night in San Jose after a 10-game absence. But Oshie suffered an unrelated injury late in the game against the Sharks and did not suit up in Seattle.
"With T.J. this was something from [Saturday] night, something different," says Laviolette. "It popped up really late in the game, so he didn't play the last few shifts there."
After scoring two goals in San Jose on Saturday, Sheary was on the ice for warm-ups ahead of the Sunday game in Seattle. But Sheary was a late scratch because of an upper body injury.
"This was late, this was something as he was getting ready," says Laviolette of Sheary. "So we had to make a last minute decision to pull him out and make a plan as to where we were going to go from there."
Where the Caps went from there was to dress defenseman Dennis Cholowski as the team's 18th skater for the contest. Cholowski did take warm-ups, but he was dressed for the first time this season, making his Caps debut against his former employers. The Caps claimed Cholowski off waivers from Seattle on Oct. 14, before he was able to suit up for Seattle, which took him from Detroit in the expansion draft last summer.
Cholowski skated 9:57 in his Caps debut, with more than half of that time (5:54) coming in the first period. Meanwhile, defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk spent the early portion of the game alternating between his usual left defense slot alongside Justin Schultz and playing right wing for the first time in a long time.
"This goes back to the schedule," says Laviolette. "I feel like Trevor is one of our smart players. He is a student of the game and able to go up and play a different position. This wasn't something that we planned on doing the whole game; we were hoping to get through the first period and we did - we were okay coming through the first.
"And then as the game wore on, then you can lean on the players a little bit more with the schedule that we've had in the last 11 days. I was just trying to get a line combination of four guys and not to have to double-shift too much."
van Riemsdyk believes he last played wing sometime before his collegiate career at University of New Hampshire got underway in 2011.
"The coaches do a good job of getting you ready for the different situations and stuff like that," says van Riemsdyk. "When we go through everything before the game, obviously you're more keyed in on what your position does, but you kind of have a general idea of what the wingers are doing just because you've got to know where they're going to be. So it's not like it's completely foreign or anything like that. It wasn't not anything too crazy. It was what it was, and we did our best to adjust."
At Seventeen - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored in the third period of Sunday's game, netting his 15th goal of the season and No. 745 of his NHL career. Ovechkin's goal was obviously his first ever against the Kraken, who became the 17th NHL club against which the Washington winger has scored in his first ever game against them.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were at home on Sunday, hosting the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center. Hershey skated off with a 4-2 victory.
Down 1-0 after 20 minutes of play, the Bears scored twice in the second to head into the final frame all even at 2-2. At 11:23 of the middle frame, Matt Moulson netted his second goal of the season with help from Cody Franson and Joe Snively. That power-play goal evened the game at 1-1.
After the Checkers restored their one-goal advantage, Mike Sgarbossa scored his seventh of the season with a single assist from Michal Kempny at 16:09 to make it a 2-2 contest.
On another Bears power play at 2:39 of the third, Snively struck for his sixth goal of the season, Sgarbossa and Franson assisting. With 98 seconds remaining in regulation, Sgarbossa iced it with his second goal of the game into a vacated Charlotte cage. Snively supplied the lone helper on the insurance tally.
Pheonix Copley made 24 saves in the Hershey crease to improve to 4-3-1 on the season.
The 7-5-2-1 Bears currently occupy third place in the AHL's Atlantic Division standings, and they'll be back in action again on Wednesday when they host the Providence Bruins.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:16 in ice time … Ovechkin led Washington with six shots on net and 13 shot attempts … Wilson led the Caps with four hits … Cholowski led the Caps with two blocked shots … Evgeny Kuznetsov won 14 of 23 face-offs (61 percent) and Nic Dowd won 11 of 18 (61 percent).