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Capitals hit a speed bump in Edmonton as punishing road trip continues

by Staff

EDMONTON — The Washington Capitals expected to bounce back.

After getting shut out by the Winnipeg Jets on Monday to begin a critical five-game road trip, the Capitals entered Wednesday’s game at Rogers Place against the Edmonton Oilers counting on turning in a stronger performance.

Washington erased an early two-goal deficit by the 11-minute mark of the first period, but things unraveled from there for the Capitals. Just 29 seconds after center Connor McMichael tied the game, Edmonton forward Zach Hyman scored his first of three goals on the night as the Oilers reclaimed the lead on their way to an emphatic 7-2 victory.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper made 30 saves for Washington. Stuart Skinner stopped 23 of 25 for Edmonton.

“It was a tough night,” Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery said. “It’s not a great matchup for our team in general, with their speed and skill. Even in our building [where Edmonton won 5-0 in November], and then back here, it’s an issue for us. They’re just fast, and when we play teams like that, it gets exploited.”

Washington was on its heels just 1:05 into the game when center Nic Dowd — playing for the first time since Feb. 20 after missing nine games with an upper-body injury — drew blood as he hit Darnell Nurse with a high stick, sending Washington to a four-minute penalty kill. The Capitals managed to kill the first three-plus minutes of the power play, but Leon Draisaitl’s rapid-fire assault on net eventually paid dividends.

Kuemper stopped Draisaitl’s first two shots, and he hit the crossbar on the third, but on the fourth, Draisaitl found the net beyond Kuemper’s outstretched glove to give Edmonton the lead.

Less than two minutes after Draisaitl’s tally, Washington put the Oilers back on the power play after center Dylan Strome caught Adam Henrique with a high stick. Connor McDavid needed just 33 seconds to double Edmonton’s lead, firing a wrist shot around defenseman Nick Jensen.

At that point, the Capitals had yet to record a shot on goal.

Ivan Miroshnichenko scored the second goal of his NHL career on Washington’s first shot of the game with a no-look turnaround slap shot from the outside edge of the right circle that beat Skinner on a sharp angle. Skinner also allowed a goal on the second shot he faced when McMichael tied the game with a bar-down wrist shot from the slot on the power play.

As quickly as the Capitals tied the game, they surrendered the lead even faster. The Oilers held onto the lead they grabbed with Hyman’s first goal, Skinner didn’t allow another goal after the initial two and what had briefly looked like a promising uprising soon turned into a long night for Washington.

“We were in that game for a while, and a couple unlucky things [happened.] They’re a team that they make their breaks, though,” winger Tom Wilson said. “They play fast. They play creative. If you’re not smart with the puck, they’ll make you pay. We gave them way too many looks, way too many chances. I mean, they’re going to end up in the back of your net. I thought we started well, considering the penalty kills and stuff, but just too much their way.”

For much of the second period, the Capitals did enough to keep themselves within striking distance of Edmonton, but their inability to generate offense on a consistent basis kept them at bay. Hyman scored his second goal at the 14:13 mark after a turnover in the neutral zone by defenseman Martin Fehervary led to a two-on-one for Edmonton, and he then completed his hat trick with a power-play tally in the final minute of the period.

“I thought we were right there for a bit, and then there’s a couple just mistakes,” Carbery said. “Marty’s turnover in the neutral zone, those little things against a team like this, then you get behind the eight-ball and now you’re really — when you get down a couple, that becomes really, really challenging.”

Chasing the game against a fast, skilled team like Edmonton has been a problem for Washington all season, and those issues returned Wednesday.

“Against a good team like that, we’ve got to find a way to just be better with the puck and manage the situations a little bit better, because they can capitalize,” Wilson said.

The Capitals have no time to dwell on Wednesday’s loss. They boarded a flight to Seattle after the game and will face the Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on Thursday night, once again hoping for a bounce-back performance as they try to salvage points from an ugly start to the road trip.

“It’s crucial,” McMichael said. “We need every single point we can get at this point in the year. Performances like that aren’t going to cut it. [Thursday], I’m sure we’ll come out with a big response.”

“We’ve just got to find a way,” added Carbery. “In a difficult circumstance, travel, back-to-back, team waiting for us, we’ve just got to dig in and find a way to — not necessarily to win and two points and that, but just keep the game tight. Give us a chance to win a hockey game.”

Note: Winger Aliaksei Protas missed Wednesday’s game with a lower-body injury. Protas was hobbled by a shot at the end of Washington’s victory over Chicago on Saturday but played in Winnipeg on Monday, though he didn’t appear to be fully healthy. Carbery said postgame that he expects Protas — as well as center Mike Sgarbossa and defenseman Alex Alexeyev, who were healthy scratches Wednesday — to be in the lineup Thursday.

“We’ll probably use all the fresh bodies we have,” Carbery said.

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