Capitals start new season with old problems in loss to Bruins

The Washington Capitals rolled out a red carpet Wednesday night at Capital One Arena, opening a new season with a few new faces — and more than a few old problems.

The 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins featured many of the traits that hurt the Capitals last season: early deficits, self-inflicted errors and a failure to capitalize on opportunities. The hosts maintained strong pressure on stout Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark with breakaways, power-play looks and solid offensive play through most of the third period. But Ullmark had the answers in a contest that was a one-goal game for most of the final 20 minutes.

“When you fall behind 3-0, you are going to have a hard time winning hockey games on a nightly basis,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “There were a lot of things we could have done better. The first half of the game we were outdone five-on-five, we were outdone on special teams, and it ended up costing us.”

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The coach added that his team was “disjointed and disconnected.”

Washington dug itself a hole early in the second period but clawed back to 3-2 by intermission. The Capitals dictated play in the third period, outshooting the visitors 13-7 and pushing for the equalizer. But a pair of penalties hurt their cause, and the Bruins’ David Krejci delivered a dagger with 3:43 left, trailing a breakaway from David Pastrnak to put an easy rebound past new goalie Darcy Kuemper. The goal made it 4-2, Kuemper exited soon thereafter, the Bruins added an empty-netter, and the Capitals were left hoping for their first points Thursday night in Toronto.

The Bruins grabbed hold of the game early. Goals from Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak and Taylor Hall had the home crowd quiet six minutes into the second period. Washington’s defense was shaky, and Boston’s transition game was clearly a problem for the Capitals blue liners.

Anthony Mantha kick-started the Capitals’ comeback a little more than a minute after Hall’s goal, scoring off Dylan Strome’s pass/shot that deflected off a Bruins defenseman and right onto Mantha’s stick to cap an odd-man rush.

Darcy Kuemper won the Cup in Colorado. He came to Washington to win another.

Conor Sheary cut the deficit to one goal less than five minutes later. Sheary, who scored 19 goals last season, took a feed from Nic Dowd on an odd-man rush and beat Ullmark.

The Capitals just couldn’t get anything past the big Swedish netminder, who stands 6-foot-5, finished with 33 saves and stymied all four of the Capitals’ power plays.

“We have so many talented players on the power play that we need to get at least one goal,” Mantha said. “It’s still early. We’ll figure it out. I’m not worried.”

Defensively, there were lapses that exposed some early concerns. Kuemper, the free agent acquisition from Stanley Cup champion Colorado, was not faultless, making 25 saves on 29 shots. But it’s clear he will need more help from the group in front of him.

“I don’t think it was locker-room chemistry or rust,” Kuemper said. “We had a good preseason. Just the start didn’t go our way for whatever reason. We got to watch it, learn from it and then move forward.”

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ loss:

Besides long-term injuries to Nicklas Backstrom (hip), Tom Wilson (knee) and Carl Hagelin (hip/eye), Washington opened its season fairly unscathed after its veteran core endured a three-week training camp.

TJ Oshie and Dmitry Orlov, both injured last week during the preseason, played in the opener. Oshie, who played in just 44 games last season as he dealt with a variety of ailments, had been bothered with an upper-body injury from the preseason but took normal minutes during even-strength play and on the power play and finished 19:20 of ice time.

Aliaksei Protas earned a place in the opening night lineup after a strong preseason. Whether the 6-foot-6 Belarusian keeps that spot is yet to be determined.

Playing left wing on the second line Wednesday alongside Strome and Mantha, Protas had early chances but couldn’t get one to squeak past Ullmark. His most notable chance occurred early in the second period, when his shot rang off the crossbar. Protas, 21, still has a lot to learn playing in that left wing role, but his teammates are confident he can get up to speed.

“He’s mature enough to have that kind of role,” Alex Ovechkin said. “He worked hard all summer. Good for him. He’s getting a huge opportunity to be in the team, and that’s good.”

If Protas doesn’t live up to early expectations, Laviolette could turn to Connor McMichael or Joe Snively. McMichael, who played in 68 games for Washington last season, lost his spot in the lineup to Protas during training camp. Snively spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League but scored seven points in 12 games in Washington.

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