“Braden was outstanding, I thought, all game,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “Gives us a chance, and right through the shootout gave us a chance. Tough to only get one point, but we’ll take it and move on.”
It appeared Lars Eller had given the Capitals the edge in the shootout’s fifth round by beating Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but his goal was waved off upon review because the puck hit the post but never crossed the line. T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana, Eller, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov had a chance against the 6-foot-6 Markstrom, but nobody could convert.
“When you have a tree in the net, you’re going to figure out how he’s going to move,” said Vrana, who scored in the first period to put the Capitals up early. “I don’t know, man. I just look [for] the free spot. He was so much, he was so in the net; he didn’t go out at all.”
In overtime — the Capitals’ 11th in 25 games this season and their fifth in their past nine — the Canucks could not take advantage of a four-on-three power play after Kuznetsov was whistled for hooking. The depleted Capitals held and even got three shots on goal in the extra period, but they couldn’t solve Markstrom then or in the shootout.
“You play the game that’s presented to you, and lately, obviously, we’ve been playing a few more lower-scoring games,” Holtby said. “We’re trying to get better defensively and just finding ways to create offense while doing that, too.”
The Capitals fell to 16-4-5 with their second straight defeat, following Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at the New York Rangers. Washington has lost four of seven but still collected eight of the 14 possible points in that stretch (3-2-2). Holtby made a handful of point-blank saves down the stretch Saturday to keep the game within reach; he finished with 32 saves.
The Capitals were without four regular forwards for the second straight game: Nicklas Backstrom (upper body, day-to-day), Nic Dowd (hand, injured reserve), Garnet Hathaway (suspension) and Carl Hagelin (long-term injured reserve). Reirden said he hopes Backstrom and Dowd will play Wednesday against visiting Florida, and that will be the final game of Hathaway’s three-game suspension.
Vrana got the scoring started for the Capitals for the sixth time, a team high. Taking a crisp pass from Eller on the boards, Vrana sniped a shot past Markstrom from the left faceoff circle 2:22 into the game. All 11 of Vrana’s goals have come at even strength, and his seven first-period goals rank second in the league behind Boston’s David Pastrnak (10 entering Saturday).
Vrana, who played his 200th NHL game Wednesday, continued his hot start, making the kind of offensive impact the team was hoping for. After he had 24 goals last season but none in the playoffs, Vrana wanted to prove he can bounce back. Through 25 games, he has done just that, posting 19 points to stand at 99 for his career.
He almost had his second goal of the game a few minutes into the second period after his shot on the rush sneaked through Markstrom, but Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers cleared the puck off the goal line.
“The games are tight,” Vrana said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. All teams are battling for points right now. Like I said, we’re creating chances, and that’s important. We’re just going to work on finishing — hopefully figure it out for next game.”
A pair of Capitals penalties helped Vancouver tie the score at 1 on Elias Pettersson’s goal with six minutes left in the first period. His one-timer from the right circle yielded his 10th goal of the season.
Just 16 seconds earlier, Pettersson had drawn a tripping penalty on Richard Panik. That sent him to the box, where he joined Chandler Stephenson, who had been called for interference 1:02 earlier. The Canucks’ five-on-three advantage effectively turned into a five-on-two when defenseman Michal Kempny lost his stick. Pettersson scored almost immediately — the third power-play goal the Capitals had allowed in two games — and Vancouver still had 1:44 worth of power-play time.
The Capitals were missing four typical penalty killers Saturday — Backstrom, Hagelin, Dowd and Hathaway — and Stephenson and Panik are penalty killers, too. The makeshift unit was solid from there, though, as Vancouver finished 1 for 5 with the man advantage.
In the end, though, the Capitals couldn’t find a way to beat Markstrom again.
“Pretty soon,” Holtby said, “pucks are going to start going in.”