NEW YORK — The distinctive sound of a puck hitting off a goal post echoed throughout Madison Square Garden four times Wednesday night during the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. One after the other, the ringing noise was accompanied with a sliver of hope yet simultaneous frustration for the Capitals, who were playing with a depleted lineup because of a slew of injuries and a three-game suspension issued to forward Garnet Hathaway earlier in the day.
Washington faced a three-goal deficit just four minutes into the third period, and its shorthanded roster was too much to overcome. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his 10th goal of the season 7:24 into the final frame, but Washington couldn’t muster anything else.
“That is always tough when you have opportunities like that and it hit crossbar and crossbar again,” Kuznetsov said. “As soon as we get the puck in their zone we are having good looks, but like I said it is pretty tough when you hit a couple posts.”
Despite the loss, their first in regulation on the road since Oct. 10, the Capitals (16-4-4) still sit comfortably atop the NHL standings with 36 points. They are five points clear of the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers, their closest challengers in the season’s early stages. Washington had been on an 8-0-1 surge away from home.
“They made bigger plays tonight,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It [is] just one of those reset buttons now. You look at it and see how you can do better and move on.”
After the Capitals hit three posts in the first period, Artemi Panarin’s power-play snipe from the faceoff circle beat Holtby and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 1:14 into the second period. Washington hit another post midway through the second period on its first power-play attempt but still couldn’t find the net.
The Rangers opened the third period with two quick goals. Panarin scored his second power-play goal of the night 3:57 into the period, marking the first time the Capitals allowed two power-play goals in a game this season, and Pavel Buchnevich gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead 23 seconds later.
Kuznetsov gave the Capitals a brief lift with his power-play goal, on which John Carlson earned the assist for his 36th point in 24 games. But Brett Howden delivered the dagger with 6:26 to play, sending Holtby to his first regulation loss in more than a month.
“I think it was more a couple lapses,” Holtby said. “Things happen.”
The Capitals were missing several regulars after a number of transactions Wednesday morning. They retroactively placed forward Carl Hagelin (upper body) on long-term injured reserve after he missed the past six games, and they also put forward Nic Dowd (hand) on injured reserve after he missed the previous three. Center Nicklas Backstrom also missed Wednesday’s game after it was announced he had an upper-body injury and is considered day-to-day. The team found out about Backstrom’s injury following Monday night’s 5-2 win against Anaheim.
To help fill the voids, the Capitals called up four players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. Forward Beck Malenstyn made his NHL debut Wednesday and forward Michael Sgarbossa made his Washington debut, while defenseman Tyler Lewington and goaltender Ilya Samsonov were also recalled but didn’t play. Goaltender Vitek Vanecek was sent back down to Hershey.
Malenstyn made a solid first impression, recording three shots on goal. He was a stick move away from scoring with about eight minutes to go in the first period, but he couldn’t put the puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made the right pad save on his forehand.
“Obviously not the result we wanted from the game,” Malenstyn said, “but as far as the experience goes, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
In addition to the injured players, the Capitals were also without Hathaway, who was suspended three games without pay for spitting on Anaheim’s Erik Gudbranson on Monday. He had a hearing over the phone with the league Wednesday morning, and the decision was announced in the early afternoon. Hathaway, who will forfeit $24,193.53 of his salary while serving the suspension, will not appeal the ban, and he will be eligible to return for the team’s Nov. 29 game against Tampa Bay. Washington plays the Ducks again Dec. 6 in Anaheim, Calif.
“It was tough to swallow because I want to be out there with the guys,” Hathaway said after Wednesday’s game. “You know, I felt helpless tonight, and I let the guys down in the room and I let the organization down. In the end, I respect the league’s decision, and I had a fair opportunity to explain my side of things and how I saw the events unfold.”