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Capitals stifled by Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck in 3-0 loss on the road

Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stops one of the Capitals' better scoring chances Thursday, a bid by Richard Panik, during Winnipeg’s shutout win.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stops one of the Capitals' better scoring chances Thursday, a bid by Richard Panik, during Winnipeg’s shutout win. (John Woods/AP)
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WINNIPEG — The Washington Capitals sent a handful of pucks at Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck early, got quality breakaway chances and even hit a few posts. The first period produced plenty of scoring opportunities, with all four lines having bright spots.

The key issue? They couldn't score a goal, and as the game progressed, the chances diminished in quality, their net presence went lacking and Helle­buyck's confidence grew, ultimately becoming the defining element in a 3-0 Winnipeg win Thursday night at Bell MTS Place. The Jets goalie turned aside 34 shots to complete the shutout.

"I thought their goalie played well," Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. "That being said, we could have made it more difficult on him with more net traffic . . . delivered a few more pucks and then, when we had the opportunity, make him go laterally."

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Dmitry Kulikov scored the game’s opening goal at 6:33 of the first, and Kyle Connor added a lethal snipe from the slot at 7:20 of the third. Mark Scheifele sealed it with an empty-net goal with 1:28 remaining after Ilya Samsonov went off for an extra attacker.

The Capitals (39-19-6) asked questions of Hellebuyck, but he answered them all for his fifth shutout. It was just the second time this season the Capitals failed to light the goal lamp. The Columbus Blue Jackets were the only other team to hold the Capitals at bay, Dec. 16 in a 3-0 loss.

“You’re creating chances. It’s a good thing. They are eventually going to go in,” right wing Tom Wilson said. “But that being said, there is too much offense, too good a team in this room to have zero goals on the board.”

The Capitals, whose modest two-game winning streak was snapped, will visit the Minnesota Wild on Sunday for the finale of the team’s quick two-game trip.

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Samsonov, who made some difficult saves while keeping the Capitals in the game, finished with 29 stops and a .935 save percentage, his highest in his past seven starts.

He had a highlight toe save on Jack Roslovic late in the third, but by then the game was out of reach.

Offensively, nothing clicked for the visitors.

“Maybe it was one of those games where it was the little things,” Wilson said. “We know we can be better, even when there is a good goalie in there. Not scoring any goals isn’t going to get the job done. You have to get in front of him or make it more difficult or bear down on our chances so it happens. You know, I thought we played together for the most part but felt like little things cost us.”

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Trailing 1-0 entering the second period, the Capitals had back-to-back power-play opportunities but couldn’t convert. Alex Ovechkin drew the first hooking penalty, then new addition Ilya Kovalchuk drew the second minor with a hooking call.

Hellebuyck stiffened, however, turning aside two shots by Ovechkin, including one on which he made a stretching right toe save of the captain’s blast from just beyond the blue line.

Washington opened the third period with its third power play when Nick Jensen drew a holding call on Dylan DeMelo. This time, the Capitals failed to muster much of an attack, barely testing Hellebuyck.

“It’s a work in progress,” Wilson said of the power play. “We had some good looks, and obviously you want to convert on them. But, you know, especially the second unit, it will take a few games. And hopefully we can iron out the details, and I think it can be a pretty dangerous one when we get rolling.”

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The Jets (33-27-6), who are fighting for a wild-card spot, got two important points despite losing Patrik Laine, one of their top scoring threats, only four minutes into the game. He headed down the tunnel with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot from Michal Kempny with his left foot.

Two days removed from a 4-3 win over the Jets at home that saw the Capitals open a three-goal lead, Washington was playing from behind almost from the start after Kulikov’s deep snipe got past Samsonov.

And while Winnipeg ended the period up 1-0, the opening 20 minutes offered no reason to think the Capitals weren’t going to dent Hellebuyck. The shuffled fourth line impressed with solid shifts as Richard Panik finished the period with a game-high four shots. The line, also made up of Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, was able to sustain offensive zone time while landing multiple hits along the boards.

“We are finding our way in the O-zone a little bit better,” Dowd said. “It’s kind of been dried up for the last couple months, and it’s been frustrating. We got the monkey off our back the last game, and I thought we actually had some good opportunities tonight, in the first period especially.”

With the fourth line working well, the penalty kill delivered again, thwarting a two-man advantage for 1:55 midway through the opening period.

At 8:39 in the first, with the Jets already up by one goal, Brenden Dillon was called for hooking. Five seconds later, Radko Gudas joined him for high-sticking Connor. With two penalty-killing defensemen parked in the box, the Capitals were able to hold off an out-of-sorts Jets power play to stay within striking distance.

Things, however, went downhill from there.

“It is disappointing from the standpoint of I thought we played really well in the first but then we didn’t necessarily stick with it,” Dowd said. “The second period was a little weird, a lot of penalties. I think our team is best when we have all four lines rolling, and I think definitely not a step back.”