The Washington Capitals spent countless dollars flying thousands of miles to play consecutive games in western Canada. As it turned out, they might have been better off mailing in the two losses and using the money to bolster the lineup.
The Capitals allowed at least five goals for the third consecutive game and fell, 6-3, to the lowly Vancouver Canucks at GM Place.
"We're awful, we're terrible, we're not playing good hockey right now," defenseman Calle Johansson said. "We're trying fancy plays, and we can't play like that."
The Canucks came into tonight winless in their previous seven games, and opponents had earned at least one point off them in 13 consecutive games. The Capitals are 12-16-5, 3-7-1 since crawling back to .500 on Nov. 27.
Washington has matched its low point of the season, when it was 2-6-2 at the end of October following their other western trip. Their road woes have only intensified since then. They opened this five-game trip with two spirited victories, but dropped the next three, being outscored 17-9. They are 5-12-1 on the road, and spend the next two weeks home, starting Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It appeared, ever so briefly, as the Capitals might salvage something from this western jaunt. James Black opened the scoring just 77 seconds into tonight's game, capping a beautiful breakaway, the first shot goalie Felix Potvin faced as a Canuck after being acquired from the Islanders last week.
Potvin also faced the Capitals in his first appearance the last time he was dealt (from Toronto last January), and lost, 4-3. Black's goal marked the only time he trailed tonight. The Capitals continued to mount an early attack, but Potvin made two big saves and was eliciting ovations by the third period.
A few minutes later Vancouver found its legs. Greg Hawgood kept a poor clearing pass in the zone and Capitals defender Sergei Gonchar, who struggled defensively Tuesday, failed to corral rookie Josh Holden. His deflection tied the game nearly five minutes into the period. Sixty-three seconds later defenseman Adrian Aucoin followed Todd Bertuzzi's breakaway and popped the rebound into an empty net. It was 2-1, just like that.
Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig matched Potvin on consecutive rushes, but was defenseless off the opening draw of the second period. Bertuzzi's initial shot was blocked, but he found Markus Naslund streaking down the right side for an easy tap-in.
The Capitals, who dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, were forced to open up and the Canucks took full advantage, counter-attacking at will.
"We started pressing too much," forward Steve Konowalchuk said. "I think that came back to hurt us. We got away from the system and opened up."
The Capitals' near-goals came in droves. Then Jeff Halpern, who scored short-handed Tuesday, provided another spark. He nearly beat Potvin, but Black flipped the loose puck over Potvin about five minutes into the period to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Halpern, one of the most underrated rookies in the league, earned his first three-game point streak. Black got his first two-goal game of the season. (He has scored six goals in the last 13 games after getting none in his first 12.)
Fifty-six seconds later Potvin knocked aside Ken Klee's shot and Andrei Nikolishin whacked the puck between his legs, tying the game at 3 and snapping a 13-game scoreless slump. Everything was pretty even by now; everything but luck.
Seven minutes into the period, Vancouver center Andrew Cassels's haphazard pass hit Klee and went straight in. Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis nearly tied the game, and Dmitri Mironov fed Halpern for a re-direction he sent just wide.
"I could've put us 4-4 going into the third period," Halpern said. "It's tough. I don't know what else to say."
Canucks rookie Steve Kariya out-raced Klee at the other end and scored on a backhander with 51 seconds left in the second period for a 5-3 lead. The Capitals dominated the third period, but Kariya delivered the final blow, finishing yet another breakaway midway through the period.