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Takeaways: Capitals Power Play Finds Spark, But 5v5 Costly In Loss To Canucks

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Capitals defenseman Justin Schultz

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On a snowy afternoon in D.C. just 24 hours after a strong win on Long Island, the Washington Capitals got right back to work against the Vancouver Canucks at home. However, some lineup shuffles — including John Carlson entering COVID-19 protocol — and more adversity, as well as all-too-familiar pitfalls, struck again — and cost them.

Despite two power-play goals, a lopsided second period, as well as a lack of discipline, led to a 4-2 loss. Washington has now dropped five of its last six games.

Here are all the takeaways from the defeat:

Capitals Power Play Finds A Spark, PK Gives Up A Couple

One area where the Capitals have been struggling this season has been on the man advantage. But on Sunday, the power play finally saw a breakthrough as the PP1 unit found a spark, managing its first PPG on home ice since November.

It all started in the first, as Peter Laviolette’s first unit, with Justin Schultz filling in for John Carlson, moved around, cycled the puck well and also got different looks and changed things up rather than leaning back on the same plays of the past. And after a few good opportunities — and a long stint of puck possession — Ovechkin struck from the office to give Washington a 1-0 lead early.

Then, with the Capitals down 3-1 in the third, Tom Wilson drew in for T.J. Oshie in the bumper spot, and Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov completed the tic-tac-toe play in front to give Wilson’s his second goal in as many games.

The power play went 2-for-2 on the night. Before Sunday, the PP had just two goals in its last nine outings and managed to convert on just three of its last 43 attempts.

While Ovechkin said he didn’t see any specific differences on the ice that sparked the power play, Nicklas Backstrom said he feels they are starting to get in the swing of things.

“You just got to keep grinding. We’ve talked about it a lot in the locker room. I’m sure you guys have talked about it too. Just got to keep working on it and keep working, and eventually, the puck is going to go in like tonight,” Backstrom said. “That’s our plan.”

READ MORE ON WHN: Boudreau Compares Ovechkin To ‘Hulk,’ Discusses Greatness

However, Washington took its fair share of penalties — some that head coach Peter Laviolette said it shouldn’t have taken —  and gave a couple of goals back with tough go-of-it on the penalty kill on Sunday, despite getting two top PK assets in Carl Hagelin and Dmitry Orlov back. Washington went 1-for-3 on the penalty kill against Vancouver, surrendering two PPGs against a dangerous Canucks man advantage that features Elias Pettersson, who struck twice, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and more.

Lopsided Second-Period Proves Costly

After a strong start, Washington fell back into a familiar pattern and struggled greatly in the second period. The Capitals spent a majority of the time in their own end, and near the halfway mark of the frame, were being outshot 21-13.

The defense didn’t play as tight a game as it did on Saturday, and overall, the team surrendered a lot of space and chances for the Canucks. Plus, a couple of costly calls lead to two power-play strikes for Vancouver, and Elias Pettersson also got a lot of time to work with at even strength and banked in a shot off Ilya Samsonov for a 5-on-5 tally that Samsonov would probably like to have back.

Washington has surrendered three unanswered goals in the middle frame and has surrendered a total of nine goals in the second period over its last three games.

At the other end of the ice, the Capitals couldn’t keep up sustained pressure on the forecheck, nor did they get a lot going. Ovechkin and Laviolette both said post-game that there needs to be more traffic in front and that sustaining that pressure and capitalizing on chances will be beneficial going forward.

“We talked about going to the front of the net more,” Ovechkin said. “I think first half the game, we didn’t go to the front of the net, especially when we move the puck to our blue line. We just stay perimeter and you can see, every shot he sees it. In this league, it is hard enough to score from the blue line if no traffic and nobody in front. How I said, we are going to watch the video, make some adjustments and move on.”

Ovechkin, Wilson Get Offense Going

Despite the result, Ovechkin and Wilson are still putting up strong numbers for Washington, as both have goals in back-to-back games.

The Great 8 was active and all over the ice, carrying most of the load offensively and generating several chances. He led all skaters with seven shots on goal and lead all forwards with 21:45 minutes. Ovechkin’s goal marked his 276th career PPG and 26th of the season, tying him for the league lead in goals and points (54) with Leon Draisaitl. He now sits 138 goals behind Wayne Gretzky for the most in NHL history.

Wilson, meanwhile, picked up a goal in his second straight game and finished the night with three shots and a team-leading six hits through 21:05 minutes.

Sammi’s Top Shelf Takes

  • Backstrom picked up a helper and now has assists in five of six games this season.
  • Kuznetsov picked up two assists of his own and now has 38 points in 36 games this season, including points in four straight games.
  • Samsonov stopped 28 of 31 shots (.903 save percentage).
  • Hagelin and Orlov said postgame they were both asymptomatic while on COVID-19 protocol. Orlov got to get a 10-minute skate in on Sunday. Hagelin called the experience “frustrating.”
  • Laviolette said “it brings a lot of disruption” when a player like Carlson is taken out of the lineup. With No. 74 out, Nick Jensen played on the top pairing with Martin Fehervary.
  • Aliaksei Protas looked good, in my opinion. Has been playing with great hustle.
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