The Washington Post

‘We stopped playing’

Laviolette rips team’s effort after Washington loses three-goal lead

- BY SAMANTHA PELL

sunrise, fla. — Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette was nothing short of blunt while trying to explain his team’s stunning 5-4 loss Tuesday night: Washington merely stopped playing in the third period.

The Capitals had a three-goal lead after 40 minutes of a track meet with the Florida Panthers, and their confidence was soaring against an Atlantic Division power. Then the Capitals had their worst period of the season, allowing four unanswered goals — with the last coming in the final seconds — for just their fourth regulation loss of the season.

“We stopped playing,” Laviolette said. “That is two games in a row that we’ve stopped playing in the third period. If you don’t punch back, the only thing you are going to do is get punched, and we got punched for 20 minutes. It’s on us.”

The Capitals (14-4-5) managed to rebound after they blew a 2-0 lead in the third period Sunday at Carolina, getting a late power-play goal from Dmitry Orlov before an empty-netter gave them a 4-2 win. On Tuesday, the Capitals couldn’t even muster a handful of offensive chances in the final period.

Washington was on its heels, looking lifeless. The Capitals were outshot 27-2 in the third — making it 51-27 for the game. Florida’s Sam Reinhart beat Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov to the short side on the power play with 14.4 seconds left for the game-winner. Florida’s final three goals came on special teams — two on the power play, one shorthande­d.

“It was work. It was work,” Laviolette said. “There is nothing else I can say. We stopped working. They worked hard. We stopped working, and that is how you get outshot [27-2].”

Samsonov finished with 46 saves but suffered his first regulation loss to fall to 9-1-1. He made his

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fourth consecutiv­e start, which is the most of his NHL career.

Florida’s four-goal third started with Ryan Lomberg’s tally with 16:37 left to give the Panthers (15-4-3) and the home crowd some life. Eetu Luostarine­n scored on a shorthande­d breakaway with 13:51 left to cut the Capitals’ lead to one, and Sam Bennett got the equalizer with 7:59 to go.

Capitals center Lars Eller said the team was “playing slow” in the third period, and a combinatio­n of executing poorly, being second to the puck and racking up penalty minutes swung the momentum in Florida’s favor.

“Once they got the first one, we were not able to raise the pace or the execution or the desperatio­n in our game, and it just snowballed from there,” Eller said. “It shouldn’t happen. We even addressed it before going out to the third.”

Tuesday’s loss stung a little more for the Capitals because they had played two stellar periods. Youngsters Connor Mcmichael and Beck Malenstyn scored 11 seconds apart in the first period — Malenstyn’s tally was his first in the NHL — and the veterans contribute­d in a dominant second.

Eller gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead at 6:40 with a dazzler on the rush. Tom Wilson got the primary assist on the give-and-go play, giving him a five-game point streak. Defenseman Nick Jensen gave Washington a 4-1 lead with a shot from the slot with 7:20 left in the period, setting the stage for the Capitals’ collapse in the third.

“It is just unacceptab­le,” Mcmichael said.

Here is what to know from Tuesday’s game:

Young ones thrive, falter

Mcmichael, 20, and Malenstyn, 23, gave the Capitals a two-goal advantage 6:03 into the game before Joe Thornton got the Panthers on the board with his rebound goal at 6:55.

Malenstyn became the seventh rookie to score his first NHL goal for the Capitals this season. It is the first time since the 1981-82 season that the Capitals have had as many as seven rookies, all drafted by the team, score their first goals.

But his youth showed late. Malenstyn was called for goaltender interferen­ce at 19:03 of the third, and Florida got the winner with him in the penalty box.

Laviolette calls it

Laviolette said Tuesday morning that he “had a feeling” the line of Mcmichael, Eller and Wilson would make an impact that night. Laviolette lauded the players’ production individual­ly and thought they would complement one another well for a second straight game.

Laviolette was on the mark. Mcmichael produced the first goal Tuesday from behind the net, banking the puck off Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and in at 5:52 of the first period. It was his first goal in 11 games and his third of the season.

Eller was playing in his second game after he tested positive for the coronaviru­s Nov. 16, then spent 10 days in isolation in Anaheim, Calif. The second-period tally was his second goal of the season. And Wilson has been a constant producer on the right wing, notching eight goals and 15 assists in 23 games.

Hershey line stays

The Capitals’ lineup has been in a state of flux because of injuries over the first 23 games. But Washington’s lineup Tuesday was the same as in its win Sunday at Carolina. Daniel Sprong was again a healthy scratch, and the fourth-line trio of Malenstyn, Michael Sgarbossa and Brett Leason remained.

Laviolette lauded Malenstyn’s efforts even before he got his first goal Tuesday, noting two key blocks Sunday. Malenstyn missed all of last season after he tore his Achilles’ tendon just before training camp.

“In Hershey [of the American Hockey League], it helps because you can get reps and kind of make mistakes and learn from them,” Sgarbossa said. “Coming up here, we’ve learned to keep it simple, and that is where our success has really come from.”

 ?? WILFREDO LEE/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Panthers center Sam Bennett scores against Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov during the third period. Samsonov had 46 saves but suffered his first regulation loss.
WILFREDO LEE/ASSOCIATED PRESS Panthers center Sam Bennett scores against Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov during the third period. Samsonov had 46 saves but suffered his first regulation loss.
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 ?? WILFREDO LEE/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Panthers center Frank Vatrano slams Capitals rookie Beck Malenstyn, who scored his first NHL goal.
WILFREDO LEE/ASSOCIATED PRESS Panthers center Frank Vatrano slams Capitals rookie Beck Malenstyn, who scored his first NHL goal.

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