Todd Reirden shuffled the lineup looking for better defense from the top six forwards. It wasn’t enough to prevent a loss to the second-lowest scoring offense in the NHL.
Missed passes, missed shots from close range and penalty kill woes doomed the Washington Capitals in a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes Sunday at Capital One Arena.
The loss meant Washington concluded a five-game homestand at 2-2-1, earning only half the standings points available to them. It left the Capitals 7-6-3, still in the shadows of a gridlocked Metropolitan Division.
“We never got into any rhythm or flow through the first period, and I had hoped that that would get better as the game went on,” Reirden said. “It did to some expect, but not enough to win in this league.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored the Capitals’ lone goal with assists from Alex Ovechkin and Madison Bowey. Braden Holtby saved 18 shots, and Washington allowed two power-play goals for the second straight game.
For the first time this season, Backstrom and T.J. Oshie joined Ovechkin on the top line, while Kuznetsov anchored a second line with Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana. Kuznetsov’s top line had allowed 12 goals in 15 games entering Sunday; without Tom Wilson available, right wing has been a revolving door that at one point included Dmitrij Jaskin in an effort to add defense.
Reirden said Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie had “instinct chemistry” from years of playing together, including on the power play.
“(I) wanted to look at some other things and some opportunities that were out there for some other players that they didn’t take advantage of,” Reirden said. “Just like our team, some individuals didn’t play up to the level that we expect.”
Apart from Backstrom’s goal, though, the top six had little success. The Capitals outshot Arizona 39-22, the largest shot differential in their favor all season, and still lost.
“Obviously not happy right now,” Lars Eller said. “Not where we want to be at, not where we see ourselves, not what we expect. But at the same time, I know we got it in this room to be better and we will raise our level and find ways to win more games.”
The first period felt like a lazy tug-of-war until Arizona finally scored 17 minutes in. With four seconds remaining on a power play, Dylan Strome connected with Vinnie Hinostroza, who snapped in an easy one-timer behind Holtby.
Twelve minutes into the second, Travis Boyd missed a pass to a teammate behind him and Richard Panik picked up the puck, led an odd-man rush and finished the job with a wrist shot.
But the Capitals got one back less than a minute later. Bowey’s breakout pass set up a 3-on-2 breakaway, with Ovechkin passing cross-ice to Backstrom at the end for the goal.
The single-goal deficit didn’t last long. With Kuznetsov in the penalty box, Alex Galchenyuk pushed a puck past Holtby. Holtby saved Galchenyuk’s initial shot redirection, but the Arizona center caught the rebound and scored on his second try.
Oshie drew a double-minor for high-sticking Jason Demers, but the Capitals held firm and killed off four minutes. Soon after, Brett Connolly had a scoring chance near the net, but Arizona netminder Darcy Kuemper dove to keep him out.
Holtby denied Galchenyuk on a solo breakaway in the last two minutes, giving Capitals fans something to cheer about briefly. But when Washington pulled Holtby for a sixth skater, Derek Stepan scored on the empty net right away.
The penalty kill fell to 29th in the NHL after Sunday’s game. John Carlson said the Capitals may have to play a bit of a simpler game for the time being to get their legs back underneath them, but added the team was “headed in the right direction.”
“It’s not like we’re getting tic-tac-toed and beat,” Carlson said. “It’s, you know, a puck squirts out and we’re either a little late on it or a little too early on it or whatever it is and it’s not falling our way. But we can control those little happenings at the beginning of those plays.”
With plenty to examine about their game, the Capitals will embark on a four-game road trip to Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado and Montreal.
• Adam Zielonka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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