For the third time in the last five games, the Washington Capitals on Sunday collapsed in the second period.
In a matinee against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, the Capitals took an early lead, only to see it become irrelevant by allowing three consecutive second-period goals en route to a 4-2 loss.
The defeat was similar to recent ones against Boston and St. Louis, in which the Capitals were also outscored by three goals in the middle 20 minutes. The difference Sunday compared to the drubbings versus the Bruins (7-3) and Blues (5-1) was the Capitals played well in the other two periods — making the poor second period even more costly.
“It’s not like we don’t talk about it. It’s one thing we want to do a better job of, but we haven’t found a way,” Capitals winger Carl Hagelin said. “I think we just got to play simple early in the second, try to play in their zone.”
The struggles in the second aren’t a new problem.
In the eight games since the NHL’s COVID-19 pause, the Capitals have been outscored 16-4 in the second period. Since December, they’re minus-14. And despite an overall plus-21 goal differential in 39 games this season, coach Peter Laviolette’s squad is being outscored 47-43 in the second.
“I don’t think it was a complete reflection of the period,” Laviolette said. “Sometimes we go out and the second period hasn’t been very good. I don’t think that this was the case. I actually thought that there was pockets in the second period where we pressed really hard.”
The loss is Washington’s fifth out of six games in the new year. After spending much of this season near the top of the standings, the Capitals are now in third place in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference with 51 points (21-9-9).
Alex Ovechkin kicked off the game’s scoring with a power-play goal midway through the first period. Ovechkin’s first two one-timers were off the mark, but his third sputtered through the five-hole of Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko.
The score was No. 756 in the 36-year-old’s career — putting him 10 behind Jaromir Jagr for third on the NHL’s all-time list. It was also his 26th goal and 54th point of the season — pulling him into a tie for first place with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl in both categories.
“He marvels me at his age and how he can do this continually game in, game out,” said Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached Ovechkin and the Capitals from 2007-08 to 2011-12.
To open the second period, Vancouver winger Elias Pettersson scored two goals about four minutes apart to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead. Center Bo Horvat then doubled Vancouver’s advantage late in the period. Two of the goals — Pettersson’s first and Horvat’s — came on the power play following penalties against Washington’s Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, respectively.
“There was a couple penalties you can’t take,” Laviolette said.
“That’s an area we got to be smarter on, especially at the end of periods,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “Obviously, against a good team like this, they are good on the power play and they create chances. If we can, we want to play five-on-five. That is our style.”
The Capitals cut their deficit in half with 13:38 remaining, but Tom Wilson’s power-play goal off a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov was the last time Washington would find the back of the net. Vancouver’s J.T. Miller then capped off the game’s scoring in the final minute.
Despite the loss, there was one positive development that came out of Sunday’s game, as Washington’s anemic power-play got back on track by scoring on both of its opportunities. The Capitals entered the game with the league’s third-worst scoring rate with the man advantage. Prior to Ovechkin’s goal, the last time the Capitals scored a power-play goal in Capital One Arena was Nov. 26.
“It was nice we scored two on the power play tonight,” Backstrom said. “We’ve talked about it a lot in the locker room. Just got to keep working on it and eventually the puck is going to go in like tonight.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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