To borrow a saying from winger Mike Knuble, the Capitals are at their best when they give a crap.
For the first two periods of Friday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks -- the team with the most wins in the league -- it wasn't quite clear that the Caps were a willing and able opponent.
Through two periods the Canucks lived up to their end of the bargain, outskating, outshooting and outscoring the Caps, who looked lost and uninspired as they watched Vancouver do its thing.
Washington finally woke up in the third period and made a game of it, but they ran out of time before the Canucks ran out of gas, and ended up with a 4-2 loss on home ice.
The loss stings -- no doubt about it. And players, coaches and fans alike are left wondering how in the world such a talented team can look so bad at times in a big game.
"We're telling them what to do," an exasperated coach Bruce Boudreau said afterward. "We aren't telling them to sit back ... Every coach in every league will say the same thing: When you're struggling scoring goals, the only way to get out of it is to shoot the puck."
The players, well, they sound as frustrated as the coach.
"We just have to play simple, that's our key," said Alex Ovechkin, who was held to just three shots on goal. "That was our key last year, and our key a couple years ago, too."
"Maybe we're thinking that it's going to be a little easier than it is," said winger Matt Hendricks, who scored the first goal of the game. "We don't want to do all the fine little details and the dirty work to get a 'W' right now."
Hendricks got the scoring started about six minutes into the period. He took a perfect lead pass from Boyd Gordon, got behind the defense and went in alone on Luongo. Hendricks fired a snapper that snuck in between Louie's side and glove hand and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
At the time of the goal the Caps were being outshot 7-3, and the Vancouver shooting gallery continued as scheduled.
The Canucks got one past Semyon Varlamov a few minutes later on a Alex Edler shot from the point to tie it at 1. The puck may have been deflected on the way in, or Varly may have been screened, but no matter. The rest of the period was pretty much all Vancouver, as they used their team speed to beat the Caps to the puck, and used their quick passes to generate several 2-on-1s. Luckily for Washington, the Canucks couldn't convert on those chances.
The Canucks quickly cashed in on a power play early in the second to take a 2-1 lead. With Jason Chimera in the box for roughing, it took Vancouver just 44 seconds to convert. Christian Ehrhoff powered a slapshot from the point through Varly for the goal.
The lead was extended to 3-1 with four minutes left in the second. Ironically, it came just as the Caps produced their best pressure of the game.
Yes, it was one of those games.
Chimera took a pass at center ice and tried to cut across the middle, but had the puck poke-checked off his stick by Jannik Hansen. Hansen was able to push the puck ahead just before Mike Green took him out of the play.
The only problem? There were no other defensemen back to cover, leaving the ever-dangerous Daniel Sedin alone to go 1-on-1 with Varly.
Advantage: Wonder Twin.
Sedin activated his superpowers, took the form of a sniper and lasered a shot past Varly stick-side for the goal.
"Mike was going up the ice when he should have been back," Boudreau said. "There's no need for it. (Sedin) is probably one of the top three premier goal scorers in the league. He puts those in."
At the end of the period the Caps found themselves down 3-1, outshot 29-16 and booed by the Verizon Center crowd.
Can't be happy about that one.
The third period, however, was a different story. Maybe it was because the Canucks were playing their second game in two nights. Maybe it was because someone lit a fire under the Caps in the locker room. Whatever it was, Washington was a totally different team in the third.
They outshot the Canucks 11-6 and, despite all of the awfulness that was the first two periods, were still in the hockey game.
Marcus Johansson got the Caps to within one midway through the period. The play was set up by the patience of
Nicklas Backstrom, who held the puck deep in the Canucks' end, and waited for someone to get open. That man was Johansson, who has been hot of late. Backstrom fired a pass to his Swedish counterpart in the right-wing circle, and the rookie one-timed the shot while on one knee past a sprawling Luongo to make it 3-2.
The Caps had several more great chances in the period, but couldn't get the equalizer on Luongo. An empty-net goal by Daniel Sedin sealed the deal. That's two straight losses in big-time games. The Caps have just one win in their past five.
"Maybe if we play a good game, 60 minutes, it will come," Backstrom said. "But right now we don't do that."