For the first 20 minutes of Tuesday night's game with the Dallas Stars, the Caps played perhaps the best hockey they've played in the young season. Through 40 minutes, they had still had things well at hand, as they entered the third with a lopsided 27-11 advantage in shots on net and about half a minute's worth of power play time.
But they were never able to achieve more than a goal's worth of separation on the scoreboard, and for the second time in as many home games this season, they weren't able to maintain and hold a late lead. Tyler Seguin's goal in the first minute of overtime left Washington on the wrong end of a 4-3 decision to Dallas.
Video: WSH Recap: Capitals' late rally falls short in loss
Seguin's goal salvaged what was on the verge of being a winless three-game trip for the Stars, who were playing their third road game in four nights. The win was Dallas' first of the season, and the Stars avoided what would have been their first 0-4-0 start since 1988-89.
"I'm glad it went in," says Seguin. "There have been a lot of one-goal games so far this season, and I think we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get out of this. There have been tense times, there have been good times, but to get a full two points is nice and we can put all this behind us, and let's get rolling here."
Seguin scored 43 seconds into the extra session after Alex Ovechkin turned the puck over in Dallas territory, resulting in a 2-on-1 in the other direction. Two of the four Dallas goals came directly from Washington turnovers, and another came from puck mismanagement.
"It was great to see us rally," says Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "But it's funny how games work, eh? That was our worst game of the year. And we got a result. It's funny how results don't often reflect how your team is playing in the regular season, but it was good to get the result."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 8
All that stands between the Caps and a perfect 4-0-0 start is the inability to hold those two late leads. In Saturday's home opener, they were up 2-0 in the third but couldn't close the deal, losing 3-2 in overtime to division rival Carolina. Tuesday's loss was the result of a dismal third period in which a 2-1 lead became a 3-2 deficit in less than five minutes. It took Nicklas Backstrom's last-minute goal with the extra attacker to square the score, force overtime and scrape out a standings point for the Capitals.
Washington seemed to sit back in the third, as Dallas doubled its shot total from 11 to 22 in the first eight minutes of the final frame. Alexander Radulov swatted a rebound past Braden Holtby at 7:53 to tie the game at 2-2, and the Caps were still without a shot on net in the third at that point.
Just over four minutes later, rookie Nicholas Caamano converted a neutral zone turnover into his first NHL goal, cutting around John Carlson, exploiting a vacancy in the middle and tucking a backhander through Holtby at 12:03.
"I saw I had a step, so I just took it to the net," recounts Caamano. "And I'm fortunate enough it went in."
Video: Postgame | October 8
After Tuesday's loss, the phrase "self-inflicted" was heard more than once from the Caps.
"I think we did a lot of good things tonight, too," says Carlson, whose first goal of the season came late in the second, giving the Caps the 2-1 cushion they carried to the third. "It's a crap feeling right now, but it's self-inflicted. It's better that way to go back and look at it, work on it, and get better."
Evgeny Kuznetsov returned to the Washington lineup on Tuesday, and he wasted little time in making his presence felt.
On his second shift of the season, Kuznetsov staked the Caps to an early 1-0 lead, scoring a dozen seconds after he won a draw in the Dallas zone. He went into the corner and fed Jonas Siegenthaler at the left point. After fanning on a shot try of his own, Siegenthaler retrieved the puck along the left half wall and tried to center for Richard Panik in the slot. The pass slipped past Panik, but Kuznetsov collected it in the inside portion of the right circle. He promptly backhanded a shot past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop for a 1-0 Caps lead at 4:49 of the first.
The Caps thoroughly outplayed the Stars in the first, but missed the net on a few good chances and Bishop stopped all the rest. Early in the second, the Stars pulled even.
Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak made a good read near his own line, picking off a Lars Eller pass and carrying out of the zone before springing sophomore center Roope Hintz into Washington ice. Hintz put on a burst to achieve some separation, then fired a wrist shot over Holtby's glove hand from the left circle, tying the game at 1-1 just 1:59 into the second period.
Eller sat for a shift after his turnover.
"I think it's important to hold players accountable for plays that are self-inflicted," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "There are going to be mistakes that happen where the other team executes and makes great plays. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to great plays. Other times, it's mistakes by us, and we have to get those out of our game early, and they need to be addressed from game one on. That's part of us learning as a team."