Caps fall flat, lose to Dev­ils

Cop­ley solid early as team­mates strug­gle

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

NE­WARK, N.J. (WPNS) — Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals goal­tender Pheonix Cop­ley hugged the post, at­tempt­ing to seal off the right side of the net as the New Jer­sey Dev­ils again swarmed in front of him. Blake Cole­man’s shot found a hole any­way, and for a fourth time Thurs­day night, the Pru­den­tial Cen­ter goal horn sounded and Cop­ley again tried to brace him­self in net. He’d played pretty well for just his sec­ond NHL start, and yet the score was lop­sided. The Dev­ils would score two more times be­fore his night was mer­ci­fully over.

Wash­ing­ton’s high-pow­ered of­fense dried up as the team suf­fered its first reg­u­la­tion loss of this young sea­son, fall­ing to New Jer­sey, 6-0. The Cap­i­tals (2-1-1) had scored 18 goals in their first three games be­fore Thurs­day’s shutout. Mean­while, they bled scor­ing chances, and in his first ap­pear­ance of the sea­son, Cop­ley al­lowed six goals on 36 shots.

The Cap­i­tals will likely con­sider this a sched­ule loss down the road — Wash­ing­ton opened the sea­son with a back-to-back, then had five days off be­fore an­other back-to-back set of games — but the game was also an ex­am­ple of what the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons can come to ex­pect. Teams will want to mea­sure them­selves against the Cap­i­tals, put­ting forth their best ef­fort, and on Thurs­day, the Dev­ils (20-0) looked like the faster and more or­ga­nized team.

Cop­ley hasn’t made an NHL reg­u­lar-sea­son start since Jan. 21, 2017, and his last time in net be­fore Thurs­day’s game was against St. Louis, when he had a 42-save shutout in the teams’ pre­sea­son meet­ing. That was nearly three weeks ago, and while Cop­ley spent that time work­ing with goal­tend­ing coach Scott Mur­ray in prac­tice, he was rusty from lack of game ac­tion. Though top goal­tender Braden Holtby

started him both of the first two games, when the team played Bos­ton and then divi­sion ri­val Pitts­burgh.

“We’ve got a real spe­cial goal­tender in Braden Holtby who we need to put out there to give our team the best chance we can to have suc­cess,” Reirden said be­fore Thurs­day’s game. “But for me, the right thing to do was not to have (Cop­ley) go into Pitts­burgh on a back-to-back in game two of the year.”

Reirden was hope­ful that start­ing Cop­ley against the Dev­ils less than 24 hours af­ter the Cap­i­tals beat the Ve­gas Golden Knights would be a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion for his sea­son de­but. But while Cop­ley looked fresh and sharp to start the game, his team­mates strug­gled. New Jer­sey un­loaded the first five shots of the game in the first five min­utes. Cen­ter Pavel Zacha broke free and bar­reled to­ward Cop­ley 6:25 into the game, and he smoothly saved that and a sec­ond shot from Zacha 22 sec­onds later.

But Cop­ley was un­der pres­sure again the next shift, and he couldn’t cor­ral a bounc­ing puck in the crease. For­ward Kyle Palmieri wedged it through his legs and across the goal line for a 1-0 lead. The Cap­i­tals were out­shot, 10-1, in the first nine min­utes of the game. Through 40 min­utes, New Jer­sey had 25 shots to Wash­ing­ton’s 11.

With 2:17 left in the first pe­riod, de­fense­man John Carl­son was called for hook­ing. Palmieri

scored again, this time with a snipe from the top of the right face­off cir­cle on the power play. An­other penalty to start the sec­ond pe­riod, a Jakub Vrana trip 47 sec­onds in, proved costly. Wash­ing­ton killed it off, but just seven sec­onds later, for­mer Cap­i­tals for­ward Mar­cus Jo­hans­son snapped a shot past Cop­ley to make it a 3-0 game.

Though the blame for Thurs­day’s re­sult rested more on the play in front of Cop­ley than on the goal­tender him­self, the 6-foot-4 26-year-old is un­der some pres­sure to start the sea­son. Wash­ing­ton ben­e­fited from hav­ing two im­pres­sive goal­tenders on the ros­ter last sea­son with Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, who was Holtby’s un­der­study for three sea­sons. As Holtby strug­gled in the sec­ond half of the reg­u­lar sea­son, Grubauer played more, ul­ti­mately in net for 35 games. Grubauer wanted the op­por­tu­nity to be a No. 1 goal­tender with a team, so he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche over the sum­mer.

With Cop­ley much less ex­pe­ri­enced, the mar­gin for er­ror is less this year, and while the Cap­i­tals are com­mit­ted to be­ing pa­tient with Cop­ley as he grows into the role, it’s also the one spot in the lineup that is a ques­tion mark for a team that’s re­turn­ing the bulk of its cham­pi­onship ros­ter.

“He’s a guy who’s well-liked in our room,” Reirden said. “An ex­tremely hard-worker and ob­vi­ously takes up a lot of room in the net.”

When New Jer­sey’s Brian Boyle scored the Dev­ils’ sixth and fi­nal goal of the game, fans started to ser­e­nade Cop­ley, mock­ingly singing his name and he got back into po­si­tion in net.

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