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Capitals have ‘got to learn’ from latest quick-response goal allowed

Twenty-three seconds after the Capitals scored, Braden Holtby allowed the third quick-response goal this season. (AP Photo/Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese).

Midway through the second period Saturday night in Toronto, Capitals forward Troy Brouwer blasted his sixth goal of the season on the power play, a one-timer from Nicklas Backstrom thick inside the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill at the slot. Washington had finally climbed onto the scoreboard and now faced a 3-1 deficit. “Our bench got a little more energy,” Coach Barry Trotz said, “then we gave up a goal right away. Yeah, you want to forget about these games.”

On the ensuing shift, Toronto forward Nazem Kadri caught defenseman Karl Alzner flat-footed, a simple cut enough to surge through the neutral zone without a back check. Jay Beagle eventually caught up to Kadri and forced him to dump the puck behind to David Clarkson, whose rolling shot slipped underneath goaltender Braden Holtby’s blocker.

It was one of four goals Washington’s two netminders allowed through their bodies during a 6-2 loss, but even more alarming was the speed with which the Maple Leafs replied. Just 23 seconds elapsed between Brouwer’s strike and Clarkson’s, the second time this weekend the Capitals allowed a goal during the next shift after scoring one.

“We’ve got to be more focused after we score,” center Backstrom said. “I think it’s something we’ve got to learn from. Obviously real disappointing. Learn from it and move on.”

Quick-response goals hounded the Capitals throughout last season and resurfaced as an issue against the New York Islanders and Maple Leafs, during a home-road back-to-back they split. Using data from NHL box scores, Washington is tied for the league-high in quick-response goals allowed, defined here as within 45 seconds of scoring a goal, roughly the length of an average shift.

Through November, only the Hurricanes and Capitals have allowed three such quick-response goals. Saturday, Trotz deployed rookie center Andre Burakovsky’s line as a test against Islanders captain John Tavares after Washington scored, and Tavares quickly answered because Burakovsky missed his assignment after a face-off.

“We just scored our second goal and I said you know what, I’ve got a defense pairing we want, these guys have been playing pretty good, I’m going to give Burakovsky a shift against Tavares,” Trotz said. “I was showing confidence. I know he could do it. And what happened? They scored.”

But before that, over a full month had passed since the last quick-response goal allowed, an unassisted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins blast in Edmonton when forward Alex Ovechkin whiffed on a slap shot and gifted the Oilers a clean breakaway.

“You want to take technical things out of every game, but I think the biggest thing we want to take out of it is how to stop the bleeding as quick as we can” Holtby said. “A game like this is something we didn’t do very well in that area.”

The Capitals have flipped the script once this season – Nov. 4 vs. Calgary – but they have also scored six goals within two minutes of allowing one. Using these parameters, set by some beat writers last season to measure quick-response scores, Washington has allowed only  four goals within two minutes of scoring, but three of those four happened on the ensuing shift.

“We talked about that,” Trotz said. “You have to manage moments. We’re in a back-to-back situation. Toronto hasn’t played for about four days. We were three [games] in four [days]. You can’t make it hard on yourself. There’s those critical moments in the game.”

NOTE: As reported Sunday, the NHL reviewed Ovechkin’s hit on Leo Komarov, which knocked him late from Saturday’s game, and decided it did not warrant supplementary discipline. Ovechkin reportedly visited Toronto’s training room postgame and hugged Komarov, a former teammate with Dynamo Moscow during the most recent lockout.