Tomas Vokoun pulled as Capitals’ defense falters in 7-4 loss to Canucks

Neuvirth replaces Vokoun after allowing 3 in the first

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VANCOUVER — Brooks Laich was very clear about what it would take for the Washington Capitals to beat the Vancouver Canucks.

“We’re going to have to play our best game of the season,” he said.

It certainly wasn’t. The Caps took more penalties, stumbled on defense and a made a goaltending switch that didn’t work in a convincing, 7-4 loss on Saturday night at Rogers Arena.

“We just have to execute. I think we got outworked tonight, we got beat to a lot of pucks,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “We turned a lot of pucks over. We made a lot of weak plays that ended up in goals.”

With everyone talking about this being a “test,” the Caps looked at times like they didn’t bring a No. 2 pencil. Many times, they left Canucks players wide open near the net and failed to clear the crease of loose pucks.

But the biggest decision of the game belonged to coach Bruce Boudreau, who yanked starter Tomas Vokoun after a first period in which he allowed three goals on 17 shots. He was replaced by Michal Neuvirth who would see his first action since Oct. 8.

Vokoun took responsibility for one of the goals, but his coach was not complimentary about the 35-year-old’s performance.

“My thoughts were I just didn’t think Tomas was very sharp. He played eight games in a row at a very high level,” Boudreau said. “I thought the first and third goals weren’t very good, and I thought this was as good time as any and Neuvy was sharp in practice — this was as good a time as any to get him involved in the game again.”

Vokoun did not agree with the idea that he wasn’t sharp.

“You know what, actually I felt pretty good, honestly,” he said. “He’s got a better view of it than me and I’m playing, so I can’t really see myself. Internally I didn’t feel bad. Obviously it was 3-1, so coach made a change. That’s his decision.”

The spark was temporary, as the Caps tied the score 3-3 and then 4-4 but the third period was a mess defensive blunders and more. Neuvirth allowed four goals on 26 shots.

In the spotlight on “Hockey Night In Canada,” Alex Ovechkin scored twice and showed a different gear but also took an offensive-zone interference penalty and misplayed a Vancouver rush that led to a goal in the third.

And while the Canucks didn’t officially score on the power play from the Ovechkin penalty, Henrik Sedin capitalized on being wide open at the crease to give Vancouver the lead. It snowballed from there as Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre each scored his second of the night.

“They get the first one, sort of generates more energy in the building,” Boudreau said. “Then all of a sudden we sort of sag for about five minutes there and the game’s over.”

Those goals in the third were more indicative of the Caps’ defensive-zone mistakes, and Neuvirth was unable to make the spectacular saves to keep his team in the game. The result of all that was a lopsided loss that followed some good performances in recent games.

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