There may be no more frustrating trend for the Washington Capitals through the first half of the season than their inability to build on their own momentum. A glaring example is their tendency to score a goal, then promptly give up a goal.
It happened twice in the second period Thursday night as the Capitals’ mistakes piled up in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center. Washington, which sits just five points ahead of the sixth-place Hurricanes, has lost three straight and six of eight.
Carolina’s Jeff Skinner recorded his second career hat trick, and the trio included the winner 1 minute 20 seconds into overtime that was the result of ill-advised plays in the offensive zone by the Capitals.
But the sting from this loss is a little more pointed when considering the Capitals squandered opportunities to take control of the contest by allowing Carolina to score immediately after two of their own goals when the game was still in flux. Washington has allowed 22 goals within 2:30 of scoring one.
“To be honest, it’s sort of embarrassing,” said Brooks Laich, who was back in the lineup after sitting out 14 of the past 15 games with a lingering groin injury “I mean, you score a goal, you stick to your rules that next shift — you get the puck, you get it in deep. That way, their bench is in some disarray, their coach is on them saying we’re outworking them, and then your decisions with and without the puck, you have to be sharp in that instance. What was it, two tonight that we gave up quickly after a goal? It’s not acceptable.”
In the early going it was clear that Carolina goaltender Anton Khudobin, playing in his first game since Oct. 13 after recovering from an ankle injury, was struggling. He didn’t handle shots cleanly, often left the puck loose around the crease and generally appeared skittish as the Capitals brought steady pressure.
But for all the opportunities, the Capitals weren’t able to convert and soon made their first costly error. A pair of penalties — too many men on the ice and a high stick by Laich — gave Carolina 1:22 of a two-man advantage during which Skinner scored his first goal of the night to give Carolina a 1-0 lead.
The second period brought a deluge of goals as the two teams combined to score five times in the opening 4:34. The period featured a breakneck offensive pace, if not much poise with the puck. It was during this stretch that Washington’s disturbing tendency of allowing quick response goals popped up once again.
First up was Alex Ovechkin, who made his way down the right wing and fired a shot while using Ron Hainsey as a screen. The puck deflected off the defenseman’s stick and knuckled past Khudobin (38 saves), snapping Ovechkin’s four-game scoring drought and knotting the score at 1-1 just 49 seconds in.
But 55 seconds later, Manny Malholtra reclaimed Carolina’s lead with a shot that beat Philipp Grubauer (29 saves) high glove side.
“It’s tough to point a finger at one thing but when we do score I think we have to be ready to go right from the next faceoff and button it down,” Steve Oleksy said. “When we do get one they’re obviously going to be fired up and amped up to go for the next draw and we have to respond and match that.”
Washington took a turn to seize a microscopic wave of momentum when Troy Brouwer backhanded a rebound in near the left post to make it 2-2 with 3:02 gone in the period. Over the next 52 seconds, Ovechkin would be hauled down by Justin Faulk but fail to convert on a penalty shot yet Oleksy put the Capitals ahead anyway.
After a faceoff win, Oleksy worked the puck down low behind the Carolina net. And as he popped out along the left wall, he fired a wrister from along the left boards that squeaked under Khudobin’s arm and into the net at 3:54 to put Washington up 3-2.
Once again, though, the Capitals suffered from collective brain freeze on the ensuing shift.
As Carolina’s top line rushed up ice the Capitals lost track of speedy Skinner as he trailed in late on the play.
The defenseman stopped in front of the net and didn’t react quickly when a rebound popped out in front and neither backchecking forwards Martin Erat nor Jason Chimera, who were nearest the winger, found Skinner before he fired a shot high to make it 3-3.
Washington’s lead from Oleksy’s goal lasted just 40 seconds. While the game settled into a less frantic pace the rest of the way, the Capitals never had as strong a chance to truly snatch control of the contest as they did at that juncture.
“When we’re trading chances there in the second, I know it’s exciting for the fans, I know it’s a fun game to watch but we’ve got to be able to calm it down more,” Brouwer said. “We had a couple big goals, Steve-o put us ahead there. We’ve got to be able to come off that, be solid off that and make sure we’re not giving them opportunities right away which is what we did.”