Last week, the Capitals couldn't close out a couple of late leads in dropping their first two home games of the season. They opened a three-game homestand on Monday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche, and found the situation reversed; the Caps couldn't get started, at least not until it was too late.
Before the first period was halfway over, the Caps were down four goals and had made a goaltending change. To their credit, they rallied and at least made sure the Avs knew and felt like they were playing a hockey game, but Washington still wound up on the wrong end of a 6-3 score.
Monday's setback was the Caps' third straight on home ice (0-1-2) to start the season. It's the first time in 36 years they've gone winless in their first three home games; the 1983-84 squad went 0-3-0 out of the gates in their first three contests at the Capital Centre.
"We got away from our team identity right from the start," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "You could see the difference when we played to our identity and started to be physical and forecheck, now the whole game changed. We've got to be able to do that for 60 full minutes. That hasn't been a problem for us with our starts, but it was tonight, and it ended up in the back of our net."
Colorado scored on each of its first three shots on net - with the first two of those goals coming off the sticks of defensemen Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov - in chasing goalie Braden Holtby to the bench before the first television timeout. A Nazem Kadri goal at 7:54 of the first marked the end of Holtby's short tenure in the crease.
Less than a minute after Ilya Samsonov came on in relief of Holtby, the Caps went down a man when Jonas Siegenthaler was boxed for cross-checking. Colorado cashed in on that power play, baptizing Samsonov and making it 4-0 on just five shots when Mikko Rantanen scored at 9:25.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 14
By the end of the first frame, the Caps had as many shots on net - four - as the Avs had goals. Alex Ovechkin had the first two of those shots in the first 4:16 of the game, the only two shots the Caps managed at 5-on-5 in the first. The other two came while Washington was shorthanded, and the Caps didn't put any shots of any kind on old friend Philipp Grubauer in the Colorado net over the final nine-plus minutes of the first.
"Great start," exudes Avs coach Jared Bednar. "That was our best period of the year. The firmness in our game, we found our offensive game, we found our puck patience, we were snapping the puck - executing. And we matched that with real good defending details as well."
After playing the first frame as though they had eggs in their pockets, the Caps came out with a more life and a lot more physicality in the second, and they were able to cut into the Colorado lead just ahead of the seven-minute mark of the middle period. At the Avalanche line, Ovechkin forced a turnover high in Colorado ice, swatting the puck lower into the zone for Lars Eller. Eller collected it, put on a little deke, and beat Grubauer high on the short side to make it a 4-1 game at 6:56.
Later in the second, the Caps put on a passing clinic to go 200 feet and pull a goal closer.
From behind his own net, Radko Gudas took a hit to make a play, slinging the puck along to wall to T.J. Oshie all the way up at the Colorado line, along the right wing wall. Oshie threaded it to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who carried into the zone with speed before curling off at the half wall and feeding the late guy into the zone, Dmitry Orlov. Orlov crept down the middle and went back to Oshie at the top of the paint. From there, Oshie gut Grubauer to open up and tucked the puck through his legs to make it a 4-2 game at 15:28.
In the third, the Caps were once again buzzing the Avalanche end of the ice and finishing their checks, and they were threating to draw even closer on the scoreboard. But seconds after the Caps were guilty of a overpassing themselves out of a prime scoring chance, the deficit got bigger.
Samsonov turned the puck over to Tyson Jost behind the Washington net, and Jost quickly centered it for a Matt Nieto empty-netter at 4:24, pushing the Avs' lead to 5-2.
Reirden pulled Samsonov for an extra attacker when the Caps went on a power play late in the third, and just as that 6-on-4 advantage expired, Ovechkin made it 5-3 on a shot from center point at 17:39.
Fifteen seconds after that, John Carlson scored to pull the Caps within a goal with plenty of time - just over two minutes - remaining. But the Avs challenged the call, alleging that Washington was offside on the play, and video review showed that was indeed the case. The deficit stayed at two, and Nathan MacKinnon accounted for the 6-3 final with an empty-netter in the final minute.
Video: Postgame | October 14
Spotting the undefeated Avalanche even one or two goals is hardly a recipe for success, but spotting the Avs four goals proved to be disastrous.
"Obviously after the first period when you're losing 4-0, you try to bounce back," says Ovechkin. "And I think we did a pretty good job. We almost came back. I think the first couple of shifts, we set the tone right away, and then the goals killed our momentum. But give us credit. We didn't stop playing, we tried to come back and do our best."