- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2018

Barry Trotz wanted his team to play smarter. After dropping back-to-back games coming off their bye week, the Capitals coach said too many players looked like they “were still on vacation.”

For 60 minutes Sunday, the Capitals looked more like the team that surged into first in the Metropolitan Division before the break, making sound decisions against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

The Capitals dropped a 2-1 loss in overtime to the Flyers in an afternoon outing at Capital One Arena — marking their third straight loss.

Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny scored the game-winning goal just 27 seconds into overtime.

The third consecutive “L” ties a season-long worst — though the Capitals have still managed to earn two points in the NHL standings during the losing streak.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said. “I thought it was a well-played game by both sides, more the style that we’re probably used to and more the style that we’re probably going to see in the second half of the year.”

Trotz said Saturday the Capitals had grown stale of late. After Friday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens, he criticized his teams’ effort. Specifically, Trotz noted he needed more production from his top six forwards.

To shake things up, Trotz altered each of the Capitals’ four lines. The most drastic move was splitting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, whose pairing helped spark the Capitals to a December win streak when Trotz reunited the two on Nov. 22 against the Ottawa Senators. Instead, Trotz put Ovechkin back with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the first line and Backstrom together with T.J. Oshie.

But Trotz tinkered elsewhere, too. He called out Jakub Vrana, who hasn’t scored since Dec. 14, Saturday for being a “non-factor.” On Sunday, Vrana was on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly. Alex Chiasson was the odd man out.

The changes didn’t translate into a win, but the Capitals did come out with a burst of energy Sunday. Trotz remarked before the game the Flyers were already in “playoff mode” and multiple players said there was a playoff-like atmosphere on the ice.

The Capitals controlled the puck mostly in their offensive zone in the opening minutes and finished the period with 10 shots on goal — seven of which came from their forwards. Against the Canadiens, Washington’s forwards finished the entire game with 12 shots on goal.

The second period, however, was more problematic for the Capitals. Trotz said before the game that the Capitals had to do a better job of cutting down on the amount of odd-man rushes and high-danger scoring chances they had given up the past two games.

In the second, the Flyers got on the board thanks to a Capitals turnover that spiraled into a three-on-one. Philadelphia didn’t score on the breakaway, but they had the Capitals off balance — leading Valtteri Filppula to find a wide-open Michael Raffl to fire one past Holtby.

The Capitals spent much of the second on the defensive until Ovechkin snapped them back into focus with 15 seconds left in the period.

On the power play, defenseman John Carlson found Ovechkin for his signature one-timer from the face-off circle — rifling past Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott to tie the game at 1.

“You have to forget the last two games, New Jersey and Montreal because we weren’t sharp out of the break,” Ovechkin said. “It was hard to play back-to-back right away, but tonight we played a solid game.”

The Russian’s goal gave the Capitals a jolt. They controlled much of the third period in their own offensive zone. By the end of the third, Washington led 28-22 in shots on goal, but the Capitals couldn’t get the go ahead goal — despite being on the power play twice in the third.

Oshie said he felt like the Capitals had plenty of chances, especially on their power play with 5:20 left to go.

“I felt like that would have been the time to capitalize on one, but we didn’t get it done,” Oshie said. “But it was a pretty high-intense game out there. We’ve got to find a way.”

In overtime, Konecny found enough room for the game winner by skating around Kuznetsov and firing a shot that bounced off Oshie and into the back of the net. Trotz said the Capitals also have to do a better job of containing one-on-one matchups in overtime when it’s just 3-on-3 hockey.

Still, Trotz said he saw the “structure and compete” in his team that had been missing the last two games.

“I’m disappointed in the final outcome, but I’m not disappointed in the game,” Trotz said. “I thought there was a lot to like in our game.”

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