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Capitals lose to the Coyotes 5-2, a potentially decisive defeat days before the NHL trade deadline

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was difficult for Washington Capitals players to explain why they started slow, lost their composure and ultimately their game to the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 on Sunday, given what was at stake.

With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching and sitting on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, the disappointing performance wasted a valuable opportunity against one of the NHL’s bottom five teams. The Capitals fell behind 2-0, gave up a goal 43 seconds after cutting that deficit in half, had two veterans penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and lost to an opponent that had just one win in the past 5 1/2 weeks.

“Given the circumstances, for sure, that’s the most disappointing game I’ve coached this year,” said coach Spencer Carbery, who called John Carlson and Tom Wilson losing their composure behavior that cannot happen from experienced team leaders. “Some nights you’ll have guys that aren’t going. Ideally, it’s two or three. Some nights when you’re really don’t have it, it’s half your group. Tonight, it was every single one of our guys struggled.”

After suffering a noticeable letdown from an important victory Friday night against Metropolitan Division-rival Philadelphia, Washington now sits six points back of the Flyers for third place and seven behind Tampa Bay and Detroit for one of the two wild-card spots in the East. Anthony Mantha, one of several players likely to be dealt before the 3 p.m. EST Friday deadline, called it “terrible."

“I don’t think we were ready from the start,” Mantha said. “The last game as so important for us, and I thought we played really well and then you come out here tonight and we’re not ready, we’re not sharp.”

General manager Brian MacLellan said Saturday the team's future is going to be the priority, especially given the brutal schedule ahead.

This disappointing performance did nothing to dispel the popular notion that the Capitals will be sellers, and some of their players most likely to be on the move were squarely in the spotlight — some good, some bad.

One of Charlie Lindgren's four goals allowed on 27 shots was a soft one he should have stopped. Logan Cooley scoring on a breakaway was not on Lindgren, but defensemen Nick Jensen and Joel Edmundson were the players beaten down the ice on the play.

Mantha, on the other hand, scored his 20th goal of the season to boost his trade value late in a resurgent season for the 29-year-old pending free agent winger.

“It’s a good milestone," Mantha said. "It’s a great comeback from last year, but there is plenty of hockey to be played and I need to keep pushing forward.”

Trade candidate Jason Zucker scored, Dylan Guenther had a goal and two assists and Karel Vejmelka made 24 saves for the Coyotes, who have won two in a row since ending a 14-game losing streak. They've rebounded despite still being without injured All-Star Clayton Keller, who GM Bill Armstrong said is not out long term and could be back sometime over the next few games.

“We played smart,” coach Andre Tourigny said. “Our guys raised their level of urgency (and) we made big plays.”

While this game was ongoing, longtime Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov cleared waivers and was assigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League. The Capitals decided to waive Kuznetsov rather than welcome him back after being cleared to practice by administrators of the player assistance program.

UP NEXT

Coyotes: Return home to face Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

Capitals: Visit the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night on the eve of the NHL trade deadline.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press