"The start has not been where we want it, and we are chasing the game far too often lately," Coach Todd Reirden said. "I think we are able to turn the momentum of the game a little bit with our physicality, and eventually we wear the opposition down in the third [period], which is why we can have success. But the mistakes we are making to start the game are really putting us behind the eight ball to start with."
The Capitals, who gave up the first goal for the sixth straight game, trailed 2-0 after one period and 3-0 after two. T.J. Oshie scored twice in less than a two-minute span of the third to cut the deficit to one, but the rally was too little, too late.
The Capitals (37-17-5), who began the trip with a come-from-behind win Thursday at Colorado and a loss Saturday at Arizona, have lost four of their past five. But this slide truly began right before Christmas.
Beginning with a 7-3 loss at Boston on Dec. 23, the Capitals have gone 11-11-0. In that stretch, they are 29th in the NHL in goals against (3.48 per game) and 21st on the power play (18.8 percent). Before that loss to the Bruins, the Capitals were 26-6-5, ranked first in goals for (3.54) and were eighth in goals against (2.76). Their penalty kill was thriving, ranked second in the league at 85.7 percent, but in this 22-game stretch it ranks 16th (80 percent).
This team is struggling, and it's no secret to the players. With 23 games left in the regular season, the Capitals remain atop the Metropolitan Division — by a single point over the Pittsburgh Penguins (36-15-6), who have two games in hand.
"We have no concern about anyone else," Oshie said. "We are obviously struggling a little bit to get wins and play a full 60 minutes, but right now, that second part — playing a full 60 minutes — is our only concern."
Captain Alex Ovechkin is still seeking the 699th and 700th goals of his career, and he is now on a five-game goal drought — his longest of the season and first five-game drought since he went six games without scoring Dec. 19-31, 2018. On Monday, he had four shots on goal and eight shot attempts.
Though Ovechkin didn't find the net, he was a physical force from the start and recorded five hits. One check put former teammate Nate Schmidt over and into the Vegas bench during the first period. The Capitals' aggressive style lasted throughout, and they were credited with 47 hits; the Golden Knights finished with 27.
"I thought we did a pretty good job of being physical tonight, but that physicality didn't create enough," Oshie said. "We will keep working on that. We got a lot of guys in here that were on this team a couple years ago and know how physical that team was, and we just got to get back to that."
The Golden Knights grabbed a three-goal lead with 5:54 left in the second period when Max Pacioretty scored from in front off a feed from William Karlsson from behind the net. Karlsson stole the puck from Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas and quickly fed it to Pacioretty for the goal.
In the third period, the Capitals looked out of sync until Oshie sniped the puck from the right circle into the top-left corner past Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 8:47. Oshie's second goal also came from the right circle, on the power play with 9:20 left. Oshie has 24 goals on the season, including five in his past five games.
"You can't say one word or write something on the board that will kind of get [the team] going [earlier]," Oshie said. "That has got to be the guys in the room here: myself, [Ovechkin], Nick [Backstrom], John [Carlson], [Braden Holtby] — all the leaders. It's on us to have the boys ready and prepared to go."
The Golden Knights scored the opening goal at 3:43 of the first period when defenseman Nick Holden found the net on a redirect in front. Vegas made it 2-0 with 2:43 left in the period when Reilly Smith found an opening between Nick Jensen and Backstrom and shot the puck over Holtby's right shoulder.
Holtby, who made 13 saves in the first period and finished with 26, bailed out the Capitals on multiple instances in the opening 20 minutes. With defensive issues and puck-control woes lingering, Holtby had to stop two breakaways in the first six minutes.
Holtby was one of the only bright spots during this road trip. He played all three games, and the Capitals' team defense was responsible for errors that hung him "out to dry," multiple players said.
The Capitals have a few days to regroup before they host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.
"There is plenty of time left, one way or another," Carlson said. "We have to pave our own way, and, you know, no one is feeling bad for us. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves, either. We got plenty of time left to start playing our brand of hockey, which is a lot more intense and upbeat."
More on the Capitals: