Braden Holtby looked up at the video board as he does after every goal he allows. But this one caused a shake of the head. Nine seconds later, Holtby was again looking up at the board, goal light lit behind him, and there went the Capitals' night.
Washington's three-game winning streak was snapped Thursday night in the 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, a competitive game that turned on one sequence and two mistakes.
"It's a game of mistakes," Coach Barry Trotz said. "They capitalized on one more than we did, and we're sitting here with a loss."
Perhaps it's too soon to tell whether the Capitals (14-11-1) have turned the corner on their rocky season after a good month and an even better last week, but even in defeat the team seems to have stabilized some of its inconsistency. Washington often has followed good showings with poor ones, baffling fans and themselves with how the same team could look so different from one game to the next.
On Thursday night, the Capitals played fairly well for much of the game but were ultimately doomed by a few key miscues against one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
"They're such a good team," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the Capitals. "They're a really good team. They're so hard to play against. I've never been so tired in my whole entire life. I felt like I spent the entire game in my own zone playing against that [Alex] Ovechkin line. But it was a great battle."
After Washington took a 2-1 lead early into the second period, the Kings flipped the game on its head. Holtby attempted to pass a puck up the boards, but it went instead to the Kings' Kurtis MacDermid. His shot was tipped by Jonny Brodzinski for the game-tying goal.
"It was just a miscommunication kind of thing," Holtby said. "A team like that, they take away your defensive options, so you kind of try and wait to get to that when you're on the wall. I don't know if I just misread if our winger was playing center or we didn't have a winger back or whatever. It was just one of those plays we can look at. It wasn't a flubbed pass or anything — I put it where I wanted to put it — just a little crossed up and caught me on a deflection coming back."
On the next shift, the Kings got the puck off the faceoff, and with rookie Madison Bowey caught out of position, Trevor Lewis sprung Jussi Jokinen for a partial breakaway on Holtby. Jokinen slid the puck through Holtby's legs for his first goal of the season and a 3-2 lead just nine seconds after Brodzinski tied it.
"The read wasn't the correct one at the right time of the game," Bowey said. "That happens, but obviously that stuff, I've got to get that out of my game, and it definitely did end up costing us the game here, the two points. So that's something that I have to put behind me, and tomorrow's a new day."
The Capitals put 10 shots on goaltender Jonathan Quick in the third period and even had a power play, but they weren't able to generate an equalizer. Quick made 27 saves, the best player on a night the Kings got two goals from their fourth line. Marian Gaborik and Tyler Toffoli added empty-net goals in the last minute.
The Capitals' season got a jolt last week when they reeled off three straight wins against quality opponents, including a back-to-back set against the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. But with four days off before this game, there were concerns about maintaining that momentum. This was the opener of a five-game stretch at Capital One Arena, and four of those games are against some of the league's stingiest teams.
The Kings were ranked second in the NHL with a 2.28 goals against average , but it took the Capitals less than five minutes to open up the scoring thanks to the Evgeny Kuznetsov show. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov picked off a pass in the neutral zone, passing it over to Kuznetsov, who got a mini-breakaway through the middle of the ice. He beat Quick 4:04 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
Los Angeles responded before the first period expired; Gaborik got behind the Capitals' defensemen with his speed, and while Holtby stopped Gaborik's first shot, the rebound went off Washington forward Tyler Graovac and over Holtby's shoulder before trickling into the net.
Then less than two minutes into the second period, Kuznetsov scored again. First, he set up Jakub Vrana for a point-blank chance that was saved by Quick. Fifteen seconds later, on the same shift, Kuznetsov carried the puck into the offensive zone, pumped the brakes in the right faceoff circle, waited as three bodies surrounded Quick and his sightlines and then shot the puck past him for a 2-1 lead.
The game would unravel less than nine minutes later.
"I don't think it's a bad game for us," Kuznetsov said. "It's a bad result, yeah, but we can learn a lot, and we can take a lot of those moments we have. We used a lot of [defensemen] shots, and we have some opportunities. We just have to score. That's about it. They scored, and we did not. We will be better for sure."