(Alex Brandon/AP)

The Capitals played one of their best first periods in recent memory, perhaps even the season Tuesday night, with one exception. Just past the midway point of the period, Braden Holtby allowed Jeff Skinner to find a small sliver of daylight between his body and the right post to squeak in a bad-angle shot and give the Carolina Hurricanes an initial lead.

All the strong play didn’t change the fact that the Capitals were trailing at the end of 20 minutes and that the goal was one Holtby should have prevented.

“Might have been our best start all year [but] they got a goal along the goal line that I’m sure Holts wants back,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It puts you behind the eight ball. But the first period we actually played a pretty good period.”

That goal was the start of a rough night for Holtby, who allowed four goals on the 23 shots he faced through two periods and did not return to start the third as the Capitals fell, 4-1, to Carolina. Both the first and second goals were ones that Holtby, when at his best, likely stops.

Just after the 11-minute mark in the second period, when the Capitals’ forwards dumped the puck in and went off for a change, Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison sent a long stretch pass from his own goal line to the offensive blue line, where Skinner was waiting. Skinner had a step and space on Tyson Strachan and ripped a shot past Holtby near side, past the goaltender’s blocker cleanly to give Carolina a 2-0 lead.

Skinner’s second goal was the start of a stretch that saw the Hurricanes score three times in 3:44. While the third was a point shot through traffic by Andrej Sekera and the fourth a backhander by Jiri Tlusty that was the result of a broken play, if Holtby thwarts either of Skinner’s goals perhaps the Capitals are able to mount a comeback. Instead they were deflated.

“Their second goal kind of deflated us a little bit. I still thought we were okay, and then they got that power-play goal, and there was no life left, not only on the bench, but in the stands,” Karl Alzner said. “We maybe underestimated these guys a little bit. When they were up 3-0 on us, we were mad, but we didn’t use that anger the right way. We just kind of felt sorry for ourselves. It was really strange to see.”

Oates wasn’t pleased with Holtby’s game, but given that the 23-year-old is the Capitals’ top option in net, as evidenced by his receiving 21 of 28 starts this season, the coach wanted to give him the opportunity to turn the contest around.

“I wasn’t happy with Braden’s game, but I think he’s earned the right to try and salvage and us pick him up,” Oates said.