VANCOUVER, B.C. — It wasn’t a secret that the Vancouver Canucks viewed Saturday’s contest against the Washington Capitals as an opportunity to prove themselves and get back on track after two consecutive losses and an indifferent 4-5-1 start. The Capitals talked about bracing for a Vancouver onslaught, but when the time came to do so they looked lost.
Washington was outplayed in the first and third periods and Tomas Vokoun, who hadn’t allowed more than two goals in any of his past six games, was yanked from the net after Vancouver scored three times on 17 shots in the opening 20 minutes. But pulling the veteran goaltender didn’t provide enough of a spark. The Canucks captured a decisive 7-4 win against Washington, which has lost two straight.
“We got outworked tonight we got beat to a lot of pucks, and turned a lot of pucks over, made a lot of weak plays that ended up in goals,” said Dennis Wideman who was one of only two Capitals with plus ratings at the game’s end.
“We knew they’d be ready to play and they had a lot of jump,” Wideman continued. “They played well we just had some defensive breakdowns and some bad turnovers and gave them some 2 on 1s and whatnot….We just weren’t quite ready to go I guess.”
Maxim Lapierre, Alexander Edler and Chris Higgins each scored two goals for Vancouver in what was far from the Capitals’ most sound defensive performance of the season. Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was pulled from his previous appearance, made 28 saves in his first full game in nine days.
Washington was caught out of position and not moving in its own end throughout the game and the lapses were problematic regardless of who manned the net. Michal Neuvirth was credited with the loss after giving up four goals on 26 shots in the final 40 minutes of play.
The first period was ugly for the Capitals, who came out flat against the motivated Canucks, and Vokoun was pulled after the first period with his team down 3-1.
“My thoughts were, I just didn’t think Tomas was very sharp,” Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. “He played eight games in a row at a very high level. I thought the first and third goals weren’t very good.”
Saturday marked the first time Vokoun had been pulled from a game since March 3, when he gave up two goals on the first three shots against Montreal while with the Florida Panthers. The 35-year-old netminder, who was making his eighth consecutive start on Saturday, entered the game with a 6-1 record, a 1.83 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.
Vokoun took the blame for the Canucks’ first goal, when he tried to play the puck behind the goal line but it never crossed into the trapezoid zone where netminders are able to handle the puck. Lapierre retrieved the puck and flung it off Vokoun’s skate and into the net.
“I felt pretty good honestly, I definitely made a mistake on the first goal,” Vokoun said when told that Boudreau didn’t think he was on point. “Third goal I never saw the shot. For whatever reason you’re trying to find it, but our guy was trying to block it but it went right by him. I just heard it kind of sounded like a post but it went in. [Boudreau’s] got a better view of it than me. I’m playing so I can’t really see myself. Internally, I didn’t feel bad but obviously it was 3-1 so coach made a change. That’s his decision.”
Alex Ovechkin evened the score at 1 nearly 51 / 2 minutes later on his first of two goals in the contest. Higgins gave Vancouver the lead once more when he was able to get two unobstructed shots off from the left faceoff circle on a Canucks power play with Joel Ward in the box for high-sticking. Vokoun made the initial stop, but none of the Capitals’ penalty killers picked up Higgins before he fired the rebound into the net to make it 2-1 at 13:17.
A tripping call against Jeff Halpern with nine seconds remaining in the frame proved costly as well. The Canucks won the faceoff back to Edler, who let a booming slap shot rip from the point through traffic to make it 3-1 Vancouver with 3.2 seconds remaining in the first. It was Vancouver’s third goal in 17 shots, compared to Washington’s 10 on Luongo, and it would be the final one Vokoun faced on the night but the Capitals were united in their disappointment in their defensive play.
“We left our goalie out to dry a few times,” Matt Hendricks said. “It wasn’t exactly what we wanted that’s for sure.”
Boudreau’s decision to remove Vokoun and put Neuvirth in his first game since the season opener on Oct. 8 initially seemed to boost the rest of the team. Ovechkin added his second goal of the game with a one-timer on the power play just 1:25 into the second. Neuvirth was not made available to reporters after the game.
Asked how he thought the team responded to the goaltending switch, Wideman, who clocked in with 24:56 of ice time for the second most on the team was blunt.
“We gave up a lot more goals,” Wideman said. “For a little bit we came back and I think we had a good second period and we came out they made a push in the third and we didn’t match it we gave them a lot of scoring chances.”
Washington managed to erase the 3-1 deficit with three goals in the second, a penalty-shot tally by Mike Knuble, another tally by Ovechkin and a high wrister by Marcus Johansson on a 2-on-1 that made it 4-4 heading into the third as Edler added a second for Vancouver.
But despite fighting back from the numerous deficits, Washington never led in the contest and Vancouver pulled away in the third on goals by by Henrik Sedin, Higgins and Lapierre.
Capitals Note: Mike Green missed the game because of a twisted right ankle. The defenseman suffered the injury on Oct. 22 against Detroit and hasn’t skated since the conclusion of that contest.