Islanders blank Capitals, snapping three-game winning streak

In an 82-game season, every NHL team has nights when it can’t put the puck in the net at one end of the ice and can’t keep it out of the net at the other. The problem for the Washington Capitals: Through just nine games, they’ve already had several of those nights.

Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena is the latest example. The others include the 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the season opener, the 6-1 loss at Ottawa and the 4-1 loss to Toronto. The Capitals outshot the Islanders 32-21 but weren’t able to solve goalie Semyon Varlamov. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for Washington. The Capitals (4-4-1) have been shut out twice already.

“They’re very structured, but I thought we had opportunities to score and it just didn’t go in,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “I know that’s kind of been the story for a little bit early on in the season here. We don’t want to keep using that as a crutch moving forward.”

The Islanders (5-2-2) scored on their first two shots, the first just 22 seconds into the game and the second midway through the first period. Darcy Kuemper didn’t record his first save until early in the second period, prompting an ironic cheer from the crowd.

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After the early goal, Washington spent much of the first period in its offensive zone, trying to find a way to get the puck past Varlamov — a pattern that repeated throughout the night. The Capitals had nine shots on goal and 31 shot attempts in the opening 20 minutes, for a total of 2.09 expected goals per Natural Stat Trick; they finished with zero goals on 5.06 expected goals.

“I didn’t feel like, ‘Gosh, we can’t get anything going right now,’ ” Coach Spencer Carbery said. “I felt like we had a lot going and, again, it just hasn’t clicked for us yet this year. The easy solution is, ‘Oh, we’re getting good looks.’ … But you can’t just keeping chalking it up to, ‘Oh, at some point.’ We’re in game nine, and we’re not scoring five-on-five at all. That’s not a small sample size.”

The Capitals have struggled to generate scoring chances and convert on them, but their problem Thursday had more to do with conversion than generation. On numerous occasions, Washington had sequences of offensive pressure around the crease but couldn’t make the play needed to get the puck across the line.

“There is more room to be creative and finish those chances that we have,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I feel like the last pass has to be better and everything has to be better.”

Defensively, the Capitals didn’t allow much to the Islanders in the first two periods, but the visitors took full advantage of what they got. On New York’s second goal, Simon Holmstrom skated past defenseman Hardy Haman Aktell at the blue line and made a flashy move around defenseman John Carlson in the neutral zone to enter the offensive zone with speed. Carlson recovered to turn the two-on-zero rush into a two-on-one but overcommitted to Holmstrom’s rush partner, Hudson Fasching, and left Holmstrom wide open to finish the chance.

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Brock Nelson made it 3-0 off the rush in the second period as he worked around a backchecking Tom Wilson and slipped a shot past a bewildered Kuemper. At that point, the Islanders had scored on three of their five shots on goal.

The one puck the Capitals were able to put past Varlamov came midway through the third period, when forward T.J. Oshie deflected a shot from Haman Aktell. But the goal was disallowed after a review for goaltender interference. In Washington’s attempt to get traffic to the front of the net — something Carbery emphasized the Capitals need to do more often — Oshie bumped Varlamov, and replays determined that Oshie’s contact prevented Varlamov from being able to extend his leg.

“That was inches from being a good goal,” Jensen said. “Unfortunately, he got a little bit of the goalie. Some traffic in front of the net that is going to cause these pucks to fall in. If we keep doing what we’re doing and keep attacking the net, maybe take the goalie’s away a little more often, it’s going to be tough for these goalies to play hot when they can’t see the puck.”

Though the Capitals largely said they were happy with their process, Carbery made it clear that nine games into the season is too many to still be leaning on process without getting results.

“[We’ll] get back to work on the same thing that’s plagued us through nine games,” Carbery said. “Just being able to finish on those opportunities, create more havoc, make it more difficult on the goaltenders. … All those things, we’ll continue to hammer home.”

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