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Takeaways: Capitals Can’t Keep Up, Fall Flat In Disappointing Loss To Wild

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Capitals forward Johan Larsson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sunday was a Wild day indeed for the Washington Capitals as they returned to game action for the first time after five days off to play host to Minnesota. Unfortunately, the chaos favored the visitors, as fatigue appeared to weigh heavy on the Capitals as they couldn’t shake off the rust to keep up with the Wild.

Another poor start, a lack of speed and execution and a less-than-ideal performance all around led to a 5-1 loss for Washington. Garnet Hathaway had the lone goal for the Capitals.

“We are a good team… if we want to have success, we can’t play like that,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “The leadership group, all of us have to play better.”

Here are all the takeaways from the defeat:

Another Bad Start Plagues The Capitals As Vanecek Struggles

As has been somewhat of a pattern for Washington over the last couple of months, the team found itself chasing the game yet again after another rough start. The Wild were all over the Capitals to open the game, and they had the upper hand when it came to speed and positioning to start the frame.

Joel Eriksson Ek made it 1-0 just 36 seconds in after powering past the defense, and Tyson Jost doubled the score just over a minute later to make it a 2-0 hockey game less than two minutes in. Vitek Vanecek surrendered two goals on the first two shots he faced, but the defensive coverage was also far from ideal.

“It’s hard to pain it in one brush. It wasn’t good enough tonight again,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The start, there might have been only two chances we gave up. But they were mistake,s they were early on and not the way you want to start the game.”

Despite a stronger effort in the second, with the Capitals not allowing a shot until around halfway in, Vanecek’s struggles showed again in the middle frame, as Eriksson Ek capitalized again after the Czech netminder failed to track the puck and couldn’t cover in time, leading to an easy tap-in for a 3-0 Wild lead heading into the third. Vanecek would then allow his fourth goal on his 13th shot faced just 30 seconds into the third, courtesy of Marcus Foligno.

Vanecek ended the night with 14 saves on 18 shots (.778 save percentage). The Wild also added an empty-netter from Nic Deslauriers.

Capitals Shuffle Lines Amid Struggles, Hathaway Gets Lone Goal

As Washington saw Minnesota put the game out of reach, head coach Peter Laviolette elected to change up the forward lines with the team trailing and still looking for their first goal of the game heading into the third.

Tom Wilson replaced Marcus Johansson on the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, while Johansson moved to the third line with Conor Sheary and Lars Eller. The two combinations that stayed the same were the ones that were working well together: The Anthony Mantha-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie line was strong and moving the puck well, and the Johan Larsson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway line was playing well in both ends to boot.

Ultimately, the Capitals did manage some good looks, and good work from Hathaway and company paid off. As Hathaway’s line generated pressure in the offensive zone, No. 21 drew a penalty, and with Ovechkin on the ice, Hathaway got to the front of the net and tipped Ovechkin’s shot past Cam Talbot to get Washington on the board in the third. The goal marked Hathaway’s 11th of the season, matching the single-season career-high he set back in 2018-19. It was also the Maine native’s first goal in 16 games.

Ultimately, Minnesota kept the Capitals from getting to the high-danger scoring areas and didn’t allow a lot of high-quality chances. Cam Talbot was also stellar in net.

“I think turnovers, bad decision with the puck that kind of kill our momentum,” Ovechkin added. “We’re good when we put the puck deep, when we forecheck. We all know what we have to do out there just for some reason we try to make cute plays. I think we just have to forget this game. Last two games, we didn’t play our best. We just have to move on.”

Larsson Makes Capitals Debut

As Washington saw Dowd and Trevor van Riemsdyk return from injury, the team also had Larsson make his Capitals debut after recovering from sports hernia surgery. The defensive forward was brought in at the trade deadline to help fill in for an injured Carl Hagelin, and he did a decent job.

Larsson moved well and helped generate pressure on the powerhouse fourth line with Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. He also got some time playing shorthanded and appeared to work well out there on the PK. Through 10:48 minutes, the Swede had two hits and a +/- rating of plus-1.

“I thought he was good. He works hard, he competes. It’s hard to get a good evaluation on a game like tonight, but I thought he played good,” Laviolette said of No. 22.

Sammi’s Top Shelf Takes

  • Ovechkin had the primary assist on Hathaway’s goal and is now one point away from 1,400 in his career. It also moved him past Jari Kurri for the 21st-most points in NHL history. Ovi also led with four shots.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov picked up a secondary assist and now has points in 13 of his last 14 games. His 44 assists are also tied with John Carlson for the most on the team.
  • Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen struggled on the second pairing and were on the ice for two of the four goals against.
  • Washington took two too many men on the ice penalties. Laviolette said one came off playing the puck on the exchange. The other came when a player didn’t hear their line called for a change.
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