GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Washington Capitals skated off the Gila River Arena ice with a standings point after Friday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes. But there was also the point they should've had, the one that was squandered away in the last minute of regulation.
"I look at it as losing a point," Coach Barry Trotz said. "We had it. We've just got to close it out."
After Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead 4:32 into the third period, Washington seemed poised for its first regulation win here since Jan. 16, 2006, the night Ovechkin scored "The Goal" as a rookie in front of a Wayne Gretzky-coached Coyotes team.
But with Arizona's goaltender pulled for an extra attacker late in the game, Washington failed to clear the puck out of its end on several opportunities. With 1:01 left in regulation and a cluster of bodies in front of goaltender Philipp Grubauer, Christian Fischer smacked in the game-tying goal to force overtime.
That ensured both teams would at least leave with a standings point, but with the Capitals just 61 seconds from leaving with two, it's a disappointing result. Rookie Clayton Keller scored on his own rebound with 27 seconds left in overtime to lift the Coyotes, the league's worst team, while snapping Washington's four-game winning streak.
Both teams struggled to produce much offensively — Washington finished with just 17 shots — but the Capitals had opportunities to distance themselves from the Coyotes in the third period. Christian Dvorak was called for high-sticking 9:58 into the period, but rather than generate offensive chances, Washington allowed Arizona a shorthanded breakaway opportunity. Grubauer made the stop on Tobias Rieder.
"We didn't give up too much, which was good, but we've got to capitalize a little bit on our chances," Grubauer said.
"The power play doesn't go well today," Kuznetsov said. "Sometimes it happens, right? The breakaway we give up, we can't do that. But it's on us, and we'll figure it out for sure."
Playing overtime for a third straight game, Kuznetsov lost the opening faceoff, and Washington struggled to recover possession from there. The Capitals tallied just one shot in the three-on-three period. Meanwhile, Grubauer saved six quality scoring chances from Arizona in the overtime before Keller's goal.
"I thought we gave up way too many chances in the overtime," Trotz said. "We weren't good in the three-on-three. Usually, that's a strength for us. But we weren't that good tonight."
The game started on a forgettable note for both teams. The Capitals' forwards didn't record a single shot in the first period; defensemen accounted for Washington's two. The Coyotes had five shots. Though the Capitals often play up to good competition, the opposite is often true, too, and the early quality of play against lowly Arizona was poor.
Though his teammates weren't sharp early, Grubauer was. His season got off to a rocky start — he didn't tally his first win until Nov. 24, his seventh start of the season. But his subpar statistics entering this game — an .899 save percentage and a 3.01 goals against average — don't reflect how well he's played considering he often has a fatigued team in front of him, typically in the second game of a back-to-back set.
With Washington set to play Vegas on Saturday night, this marked the rare opportunity for Grubauer to play in the front end of a back-to-back. He was perfect through two periods, but after defenseman Taylor Chorney was called for holding late in the second period, the Coyotes opened the third period on a power play. Dvorak sniped from the right circle to tie the game. Kuznetsov then put the Capitals back up three minutes later.
"I don't think they had too many scoring chances," Grubauer said. ". . . The game was played more in the neutral zone than it was in both ends."
After a miserable first frame, the Capitals began to show signs of life in the second period. Rookie Jakub Vrana's point-blank shot went off Scott Wedgewood's pads, and just as it seemed Vrana was going to attempt to put in his rebound, he saw that Wedgewood had him well-covered and instead made a stunning no-look backhand pass to T.J. Oshie directly behind him. Oshie then gave Washington a 1-0 lead 5:40 into the second frame.
"I saw him in periphery," Vrana said.
This was Oshie's second game back in the lineup after missing six with a concussion, and his return gave the Capitals a completely healthy lineup for the first time since the fifth game of the season. He has 11 goals and 13 assists in 30 games.
Though Washington (22-12-2) may have left Arizona disappointed with collecting just the one standings point, it moved them into sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. Just nine points separate the first and last-place teams in the jam-packed division, so every point matters.
"I still think we not lose one point, we get one point," Kuznetsov said.