It should have been a simple play, but like so much this season nothing comes easy for the Washington Capitals.
John Carlson took a long-range shot halfway through the first period Tuesday night at Verizon Center that went high and wide, rimmed around the glass and made it all the way back behind the Capitals’ net where goaltender Michal Neuvirth came out to play the puck. When defenseman Tom Poti approached, Neuvirth left it for him, but there was a miscommunication and neither player took control of the puck. The miscue made a nice gift for Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk.
“I was skating down and I was going to kind of hold up, but I saw them kind of looking at each other like who was going to take the puck and it was just sitting there. So I went to go grab it,” said van Riemsdyk, who scored on a wraparound attempt to give the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead before Washington knew what happened.
That fluky goal set the tone for yet another Capitals defeat — their second 3-2 loss to Toronto in a week. Coupled with Calgary’s 4-1 win over Detroit, Washington is in sole possession of last place in the NHL once more.
“You run out of cliches to say to the guys, obviously. We’ll talk tomorrow and we’ll figure out a plan on how to approach it because we’ve got to rebound for Thursday again,” said Coach Adam Oates, who admitted that 10 games into his first season as an NHL bench boss he is struggling to find ways to keep up morale, and not just among the players.
“It’s tough to keep [the coaches’] confidence up,” Oates said. “It’s part of the job and we’ve got to figure out ways to get the guys to understand that you’re doing a lot of good things, and hopefully it’ll turn our way.”
Van Riemsdyk’s first goal came at the 10-minute mark of the opening period, and the Capitals couldn’t shake off the costly mistake. Just 2 minutes 35 seconds later, van Riemsdyk took advantage of Washington’s sloppy defensive play to make it 2-0.
Alex Ovechkin, who is without an even-strength goal this season, turned over the puck in the offensive zone, leading to an odd-man rush the other way. Toronto didn’t generate a shot off the rush but threw the puck out to the slot from behind the net, leaving the Capitals discombobulated in their own zone.
Cody Franson muffed a shot, but the puck came to a wide-open van Riemsdyk on the right side of the crease. Neuvirth (18 saves) made the initial stop, but van Riemsdyk remained unchallenged as he retrieved his own rebound and put the Maple Leafs up by a pair.
“For minutes at a time the details aren’t there, and that sums it up right there,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Five bad minutes, 10 bad minutes, maybe, and the details kill us. It looks like we have to play full, 60-minute games all the time. We got away with it a bunch of times last year, but this year it doesn’t seem to be that way.”
Washington (2-7-1) cut the deficit in half with 2:56 remaining in the first, when Marcus Johansson fired a bad-angle shot from down low on the power play for his first goal of the season. But the Capitals couldn’t build off it.
Toronto (5-5-0) upped its lead to two goals in the middle of the second period when defense prospect Korbinian Holzer recorded his first NHL goal in just his fifth career game and on his fourth shot ever. Holzer blasted a shot from the top of the right circle that appeared to be tipped by Jason Chimera’s stick for the Maple Leafs’ third goal on 13 shots.
“I had it, I saw it the whole way, you know. It hits some stick or something and it’s a big goal for them. I couldn’t believe that that one went in,” said Neuvirth, who was asked how the team can keep trying to move forward. “It’s tough, but no one’s going to help us. It’s all on us right now and, you know, obviously this is a difficult situation right now, but I still believe we’re gonna win a couple more games. We’ve got to get on a roll.”
Mike Ribeiro, the Capitals’ most consistent offensive player to date with 11 points, scored on the power play to cut the deficit to 3-2 with just more than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Washington wouldn’t be able to solve Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens (24 saves) again, though.
Moments after the Capitals absorbed their seventh regulation loss of the season, players struggled to determine what they can do differently in order to obtain better outcomes.
“I really don’t have the answers. I’m having a hard time with this,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “It does get frustrating, we’re trying not to get negative, but there’s a lot of guys in here if not everyone — we’re not used to that. We’re not used to this around here, and we need to find our way out of it and keep working and try to get a win.”