The Washington Capitals can’t pinpoint an exact moment when their play started to fall off, lack of execution seeped in and bad habits piled up. They know they have been unsatisfied with their game the entire season, though, even when they were atop the NHL and blowing through the competition.

But as the season progressed and the losses became more frequent, the glaring drop-off in their game started to grow. With 13 regular season games left, the Capitals are still in first place in the Metropolitan Division. But while they try to look forward to the postseason, it’s hard not to look back.

The Capitals are 8-9-3 in their past 20 games, since their 4-2 win over Montreal coming out of the all-star break. They have strung together consecutive wins only once in that 20-game span — a win against Pittsburgh on Feb. 23, followed up with a shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 25.

“I think around the middle of the year we put some pretty good Band-Aids on some good comebacks and all that, but it is tough to pinpoint,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Certainly when you start losing games you really have to assess what is going on, and when we were winning we talked about errors we were making the entire season. It’s not like we overlooked them.”

The last time Washington won consecutive games in regulation was during the team’s four-game winning streak from Jan. 13 to Jan. 27, beating Carolina, New Jersey, the New York Islanders and the Canadiens. The 6-4 win against the Islanders on Jan. 18 has been a reference point for the back half of the season.

While in the moment, the game was impressive as Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick to bring the Capitals back from a 4-1 deficit headed into the third period, it also signaled the team’s deeper issues. The team failed to play to their identity through 40 minutes, with lackadaisical play taking hold. That same recipe for failure has popped up in the past 20 games, more times than not with the team failing to complete a surprising comeback.

“Second part of the season hasn’t been our best, and for sure we have to ramp up our game and play playoff hockey,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “In the playoffs you are not going to come back in every game, can’t be down a couple goals. . . . We need to start playing better.”

Lars Eller believed it was around the 50-game mark when the Capitals’ play started to drop off, coming out of the all-star break. Fatigue could be a factor, Eller said, but it’s more so the effort from the five-man unit on the ice: “You want to see five guys who want to have the puck on their stick and five guys defend when we don’t have it, working to get it back. And when we play like that, we are very hard to beat.

“I can’t remember the exact date, but it was around then when we had quite the gap between teams under us and now the lack of urgency drops a little bit, attention to detail,” Eller said. “I think we are still going to win even though we bring our compete level down a little bit, and maybe guys got a little tired as well. There are a lot of things that impact why you are losing games.”

The team’s recent three-game road trip was “average at best,” Braden Holtby said after Washington went 1-0-2.

“I think there’s been a lack of execution. Whether it’s been mental, physical or lack of common sense, I think there’s certain areas of our game right now that we are not clicking,” Carlson said. “We all know what is expected of us. . . . Everyone plays a part in this thing, and it is going to take everyone to get out of it.”

And now, with the Capitals set for a three-game homestand, they will try to get back on track Thursday against a Detroit Red Wings team that already has been eliminated from the playoffs.

“The main one is just accountability,” Carlson said of how the team gets back on track. “We’ve been holding each other accountable a lot lately in videos and meetings and that sort of stuff. We are still making the mistake of taking too many penalties and turning it over at inopportune times. I think you can’t really put your finger on one thing.”

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