The puck stayed nestled in the offensive zone, the chances kept coming, and, in a stark departure from the previous two games, the momentum heavily tilted in the Washington Capitals’ favor as the third period rolled along.
But the scoreboard never did.
The Capitals fell to the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in overtime Sunday as Travis Konecny wristed the game-winner past Braden Holtby just 27 seconds into the extra period. That handed Washington (28-15-5) its third straight loss, extending a skid that started after the Capitals’ bye week ended Thursday and is threatening to stretch until the all-star break this weekend. The Capitals earned a point by reaching overtime after limiting the Flyers’ scoring opportunities throughout the game. Philadelphia responded by clogging passing lanes, minimizing space and, in the end, keeping the Capitals from turning a strong defensive effort into a needed win.
There were some signs of improvement after the Capitals’ back-to-back lethargic losses to the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Against the Devils, the Capitals had 11 shots on goal through two periods. Against the Canadiens, Washington got just 12 total shots on goal from its 12 forwards. The team finished with 28 shots on goal against the Flyers, now winners in seven of their past eight games, and created a flurry of scoring chances in the third period.
None found the net, and the Capitals have gone close to 125 minutes without scoring a five-on-five goal.
“I’m disappointed in the final outcome, but I’m not disappointed in the game,” Coach Barry Trotz said following the loss. “I thought there’s a lot to like in our game.”
Trotz continued to adjust his lineup against the Flyers. Most notably, he split up stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom after the pair skated together for the team’s previous 25 games. The Capitals went 17-5-3 in that stretch, but Trotz felt the need for a shake-up after the Canadiens loss. He also shifted Andre Burakovsky up to the second line to play with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, a group that had success in last spring’s playoffs, and plugged the struggling Jakub Vrana in on the left wing on the fourth line. Vrana ultimately played a career-low 6:25, but Trotz noted that he was encouraged by Vrana’s performance.
Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson created a handful of early scoring opportunities before the Flyers struck first on a Michael Raffl slap shot in the second period. The Capitals have failed to score the first goal in six straight games. But the deficit was erased before the end of the period when Ovechkin scored a power-play goal from above the left faceoff circle. That gave Ovechkin 29 on the season and a two-goal lead over Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for most in the NHL.
From there, the Capitals generated pressure that amounted to nothing more.
“Obviously we had more chances this game,” Ovechkin said. “Again, we just have to finish it up. We have to find a way to put it in the back of the net. We create lots of chances, lots of opportunities, but we can’t give the goalie too-easy saves, and we have to manage the puck better when we have the opportunity.”
In the third period, the Capitals peppered Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott with chance after chance after turned-aside chance. A Capitals power play with about five minutes left came and went without a goal. Long stretches of offensive-zone time were rendered hollow. That sent the game into overtime, in which Konecny beat Holtby and the Capitals with one flick of his stick.
The Capitals have Monday off, followed by two days of practice and finally a chance to end their slide on the road against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Then the Capitals, who still sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 61 points, will hit another five-day layoff for the all-star break. Trotz’s latest line tinkering helped his team find more of a rhythm, with the offense providing flashes of the team’s pre-bye-week play and shaking the home crowd awake. Lines jelled for moments that were encouraging yet incapable of denting the scoreboard.
And the result, in the end, was more of the same.
“I think the first two games out of the break were pretty bad for us as far as our level in a lot of areas, and it started with that,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Guys played harder tonight. We were much better defensively because of it, I think, just gave them less operating room and only gave up one goal.
“That was an improvement. We’ll keep working at it.”