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Capitals Game Day

Vibe Check: Ovechkin Hurt, Mantha’s Play, Frustrated Capitals Fall Apart In Vegas

Alex Ovechkin is injured, Anthony Mantha didn’t have an ideal return from being scratched and frustration boiled over as the Washington Capitals fell 6-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights. Here’s a vibe check.



Ever since they hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2018 in Sin City, what happens in Vegas… has been lackluster for the Washington Capitals. Saturday was no different.

Following a strong start to their road trip with a stellar 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes, the Capitals, who were operating without captain Alex Ovechkin, were a completely different team against the Golden Knights as things quickly went south.

Ultimately, sloppy play, Ovechkin's absence and a lot more played into a lackluster 6-2 loss to the Golden Knights, who remain undefeated in the regular season against D.C. at T-Mobile Arena.

So, as we'll do, let's see where the vibes are at (obviously, they're not great after this one).

Ovechkin Hurt, Day-To-Day With Lower-Body Injury

Prior to puck drop, Washington got some rough news as injuries struck again. And this time, it impacted the biggest piece of the puzzle, as Ovechkin was listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The 37-year-old missed the morning skate due to maintenance. It's unclear what the nature of the injury is.

Not having Ovechkin automatically set a different tone. Even though Tom Wilson got the "A" to help fill the void, the Capitals couldn't really find the energy or spark they needed without No. 8 in the mix. The Capitals found themselves getting badly outshot early on, and there was less attention to detail and less "jam" out there than usual. That led to turnovers and costly mistakes against a Golden Knights team that'd dropped its last three decisions, and Vegas capitalized big time.

For Washington, getting Ovechkin back soon is going to be a priority, as the team is dealing with enough on the injury front and just got two key forwards back in Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. Luckily, Ovechkin hasn't missed too many games over the course of his career, and right now, it's just day-to-day as he finished last game and has played all 48 games up to this point. Still, it does raise the question of what D.C. will look like in the future when Ovi and the core are no longer around. Taking that into account, the Capitals will need new stars.

Mantha  Make Return From Scratches, Lines Shuffle Later On

After sitting out the last two games and over four of the last six overall, Anthony Mantha got the chance to draw back in with Ovechkin out. With head coach Peter Laviolette not wanting to break up the combinations, he simply put Mantha in Ovechkin's spot on the top line alongside Dylan Strome and Nicolas Aube-Kubel and kept everything else the same. It was a big opportunity for No. 39, who seemingly would've sat out for the fifth time in seven games had Ovechkin played. However, he couldn't end up making the most of it.

Mantha had some rust to shake off after sitting out the last two games (he last played on Monday in Long Island), and things weren't great for him to start. He had a bad neutral zone turnover early on that led to a high-danger chance for Vegas, and he also couldn't get much going with his linemates and ended up taking a bad offensive penalty early on with his team fighting to get back into the contest.

Ultimately, he finished with a minus-2 rating with two shots and two hits through 15:06 minutes.

In the third, the lines jumbled as Dylan Strome went to work with T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary while Lars Eller operated with Mantha and Aube-Kubel. The Milano-Backstrom-Wilson line, despite a rough go-of-it in Vegas, stayed together, as did Johansson-Kuznetsov-Hathaway.

Backstrom, Wilson Get Into Scuffles As Tension & Frustration Boil Over

With Washington down 5-0 in the second, Backstrom and Wilson were pushing with Sonny Milano to get something going. After the whistle, there was routine pushing and shoving, but in a flash, it turned into something bigger. Backstrom was extremely upset with Nicolas Hague and ended up pulling his helmet off as they grabbed at each other. Wilson then threw his gloves off and rushed to his teammate's aid. 

Ultimately, Wilson and Hague received matching roughing minors.

Kuemper Pulled For Second Time This Season

It wasn't a good night for Darcy Kuemper. Coming off of his league-leading fifth shutout, Kuemper found himself left out to dry as Washington turned over the puck time and time again, leading to odd-man rushes and Grade-A chances against.

The 32-year-old ended up surrendering four goals on 18 shots before being pulled for Charlie Lindgren, who gave up two goals to Paul Cotter and stopped even of nine shots. Both had a .778 save percentage on the night.

Six goals against mark the most that Washington has given up this season in one game, as the Capitals also allowed six back on Nov. 13 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That was the other game that Kuemper was pulled in after he surrendered four goals on nine shots.

VIBE CHECK: 1/10. Goals for Oshie and Marcus Johansson, Strome extended his point streak to three games and there was some passion and physicality at times, but Saturday was ultimately a loss to forget in Sin City. Onto the next one, where Kuemper and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will make their first returns to Colorado to face the Avalanche, the club they won it all with last June.

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