Alex Ovechkin stayed on the ice for all two minutes of the power play, firing shots from his office in the left faceoff circle as the Washington Capitals attempted to tie the game. He nearly banked one in off forward Chandler Stephenson in front, but the Calgary penalty expired and Washington had nothing to show for it.
Two shifts later, Capitals forward Brett Connolly was whistled for high-sticking. Mikael Backlund scored on the Flames' power play, but not before Alex Chiasson was called for slashing to keep Calgary's man-advantage unit on the ice for another two minutes after the goal. Mark Giordano tacked on another tally a second after the power play expired, turning what was a one-goal game into a 4-1 loss for the Capitals at Capital One Arena.
The game turned on that sequence early in the third period, a picture of how the Flames capitalized on their opportunities and how the Capitals fell into a sort of lull after scoring the first goal. Washington went 0 for 3 on the power play against the league's lowest-ranked penalty kill. Calgary went 2 for 5 on its power play, not counting Giordano's goal that came a second too late to be included. Taking two stick penalties early in the third period, when trailing, was especially indicting.
After a four-game streak of not allowing any power-play goals, Washington's penalty kill has given up six in the past four games.
"I thought it was a bad penalty [by Connolly], and then we're trying to kill that off and we take another penalty," Coach Barry Trotz said. "We can't take penalties because we weren't able to kill them off."
Said defenseman Matt Niskanen: "They had the puck a lot, and we didn't. We didn't deny entry and at pressure moments, we either didn't get a turnover or get clears. Whatever it was, PK's not getting it done right now."
The loss was especially disappointing after the team got off to such a strong start. Rookie forward Jakub Vrana beat Travis Hamonic to a loose puck, skating behind Calgary's net before setting up a shot in front by center Lars Eller just 1:02 into the game. Washington had played well in a win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, and Vrana's goal seemed to be an encouraging sign that the team would build off that game. Instead, the Capitals failed to score on several prime scoring chances and the Flames started controlling play.
"They took the game over," Niskanen said. "All of a sudden, it was tough to get any free ice to skate on. We either didn't execute well enough or work hard enough to get enough sustained pressure to really be dangerous. It was just kind of a blah game for us."
Calgary entered with its top line on fire as of late. Center Sean Monahan was coming off a hat trick in Philadelphia on Saturday, Micheal Ferland was on a six-game point streak, and Johnny Gaudreau was on a nine-game point streak, a stretch in which he had amassed seven goals and 10 assists. Less than five minutes into the game, he added to that total, beating goaltender Braden Holtby on a two-on-one rush.
Holtby allowed four goals on 39 shots. He said Gaudreau's goal was "stoppable," and he also lamented allowing the Flames' third and fourth goals in the third period.
"I need to make some saves," Holtby said. "There's some stoppable puck there, and that's the difference."
The Flames got the lead when Eller was called for hooking 3:28 into the second period to put Calgary's power play on the ice for a third time in the game. Monahan punched in a rebound to lift the Flames to a 2-1 lead. While the Flames were making a push, the Capitals went cold, going more than 10 minutes in the second period without a shot on goal.
A Giordano hooking infraction just 33 seconds into the third period gave the Capitals life with a power-play chance to tie the game. But after Washington's man-advantage didn't score, Calgary's quickly put the game to bed.
"They took advantage of their power plays, but I think we've got to play with a lot more will and determination and energy," Eller said. "I think there's energy lacking in our five-on-five game. I know this team can bring a lot more than that, than what we've been showing. It's been a little bit of a theme for us lately. We continue like that, we're going to continue hovering around .500 — win a game here and there. We've got to play with a lot more determination. The playoff race is tight. It's November, but the playoff race is right now."