Capitals fail to overcome another slow start, falling to blues at home


Alex Ovechkin saw an opportunity to give the Washington Capitals an early lead against the St. Louis Blues when a pass drifted into his wheelhouse. Ovechkin raised his racquet and hit it off. Except he was panting—the puck slipped off the nose of his bat blade. The Blues quickly countered with a rush and scored with their first shot less than two minutes into the contest.

It was the third straight game in which the Capitals missed a goal on the first shot, but none of those earlier performances turned out as ugly as Friday’s 5-2 loss at the Capital One Arena. With the Capitals’ margin of error already razor-thin, the Blues not only capitalized on their opponents’ poor bounces — they also capitalized on careless mistakes when Washington missed a crucial opportunity to re-enter the Eastern Conference wildcard race. The Capitals stayed five points adrift of the second wildcard spot, and in a gloomy locker room, some veterans spoke out when it came to the team’s playoff hopes with 12 games remaining.

“We have no margin,” said winger Conor Sheary.

“It’s about life,” center Nicklas Backstrom said.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” defenseman Martin Fehervary said, and that frustration Friday night included an inability to gain control of the neutral zone, allowing St. Louis to attack the Capitals with long, accurate passes and difficult handling to burn the flanks with the Blues’ heavy defensive corps. Limited Washington on offense, particularly costly on a night the Capitals had 17 giveaways, including 14 in the first 40 minutes.

“There were some bad ones tonight,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “The game is about details. You have to be sharp with your details and we just weren’t.

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After Blues forward Sammy Blais scored early in the first period after a touch from Ovechkin, the floodgates opened in the second period. Jordan Kyrou scored on a breakaway to make it 2-0 after receiving a long feed in the neutral zone from former Capitals winger Jakub Vrana. Kasperi Kapanen extended the lead after taking a pass from Pavel Buchnevich and beating Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper with a wrister. And when Blais struck again at 14:36 ​​- his shot briefly confusing many in the arena after the puck caught in the net behind Kümper’s water bottle – St. Louis held a 4-0 lead.

“We made really big mental mistakes with the goals,” said Laviolette. “The ones we gave up, these are runaways or partial runaways, weird rushes, things that can’t happen. There are things we should do and we haven’t done. It led to events that… made a lot of noise.”

That noise drowned out the optimism the Capitals felt after Wednesday’s comeback shootout win over the Buffalo Sabers. The Capitals’ first goal of the night came from two of their defenders – Alexander Alexeyev found Fehervary on a backdoor cut at 5:47 of the third period. Backstrom added another power play in the final three minutes, beating Blues goalie Joel Hofer (32 saves).

“It’s too hard in this league to just chase every game. It’s not feasible,” said Backstrom, who noted that Friday night followed a similar script to other recent performances: After being overplayed in the first 40 minutes, the Capitals turned on late again and suffered another disappointing result in a season full of them.

Here’s what else you should know about losing the capitals:

Defenseman Nick Jensen was scratched from an undisclosed injury sustained in Wednesday’s win against Buffalo. Jensen, who had already missed three games this month with an upper-body injury, competed in Friday’s morning skate but was counted as a game-time decider. He was replaced in the lineup by 26-year-old Gabriel Carlsson, who was called up this month by the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Forward Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch after Laviolette opted to put him on for the second half of the third period in the win over Buffalo. Mantha, who went 19 games without a goal before scoring a win against the New York Islanders last week, was replaced in the line-up by 22-year-old Aliaksei Protas, who has now featured in three straight games.

Vrana returned to Washington Friday night for the second time in a month. In February, the Capitals welcomed him back as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, who placed him in St. Louis before the close. Vrana wore a protective mask after taking a skate blade to the face and receiving stitches during a practice session on Wednesday. Capitals fail to overcome another slow start, falling to blues at home

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