COLUMBUS, Ohio — From the opening faceoff Thursday night, the Washington Capitals never even gave themselves a chance.
Just about every time they held the puck they gave it away. Decisions, from how to defend an opponent to where and when to send a pass, were flawed. And they were routinely beaten to loose pucks in all three zones, earning every bit of a 5-2 drubbing by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We were terrible. It was probably the worst period that I’ve seen the boys play in over a year, the first period,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Why? I don’t know. Collectively, all of us, I thought that defense got beat from the outside to the inside on simple one-on-ones. We didn’t track right. We didn’t pass the puck clean. It was a terrible first period.”
Adding to Washington’s misery was the loss of Mike Green, who did not return to the game after a crunching first-period hit into the boards by Columbus forward Boone Jenner. The hit slammed the defenseman’s head off the glass. The team offered no update on Green’s status other than he would travel to Detroit and be reevaluated there Friday.
The defeat snapped Washington’s modest two-game winning streak, a brief reprieve from what has been more than a month of struggle as the team has won just six of its past 21 games dating to mid-December. The Capitals haven’t beat a Metropolitan Division foe since Dec. 27, going 0-5-1.
The loss to Columbus, which snapped a three-game losing streak, dropped the Caps two points behind the Blue Jackets and was the second ugly and lopsided trouncing by Columbus in less than two weeks. No individual player was devoid of blame. They all missed defensive assignments or were guilty of careless play with the puck. They all saw too many plays develop without doing anything to try and alter the outcome in their favor.
But no player was on the ice for more goals than Alex Ovechkin, who was present for all five Blue Jackets tallies.
“I was, today, worst player out there. Blame on me,” Ovechkin said. “In the zone, everybody have to play responsible. I was out there all five goals, and I feel bad for my team because I have to lead by example, but today I was the worst guy.”
The Capitals’ demise began when they were on the power play and John Carlson lost a battle along the boards in the neutral zone. The puck squirted free, sending Blue Jackets fourth-line grinder Derek MacKenzie on a shorthanded breakaway. Braden Holtby, who made 24 saves, fell for a leg-kick fake from MacKenzie, who tucked the puck around the netminder’s right skate for a 1-0 Columbus lead at 12 minutes 18 seconds.
“It’s simple things sometimes,” Carlson said, “That when they’re adding up really makes us easy to play against.”
Fifty-nine seconds later, Green was down in a heap in the Washington zone after Jenner’s check sent his head into the glass and awkwardly crunched his right shoulder.
Green was able to make his way off the ice under his own power and even skated briefly during a television timeout approximately 10 minutes after the hit before retreating to the dressing room. Green, who has had concussions and shoulder problems in the past, did not return, leaving the Capitals without one of their top three defensemen.
Ryan Johansen recorded his first of two goals on the night to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 advantage at 16:56, when a rebound popped out to low in the left circle where the skilled center was completely unguarded.
Escaping to the intermission didn’t help the reeling Capitals regroup. They gave up a goal 24 seconds into the middle stanza. Columbus’s Brandon Dubinsky skated across the offensive blue line with three Capitals in front of him, extending their sticks in an attempt to deflect a potential shot without actually moving to block it. So when Dubinsky sent a booming slap shot toward the net, it redirected off Carlson’s stick and wobbled its way past Holtby to make it 3-0.
Any semblance of a comeback would be stymied by frequent trips to the penalty box — all told Washington took seven minors, with six players guilty of various infractions — that disrupted the flow of the contest in which they needed time to climb back.
With 12:14 gone in the second, Johansen added another tally as the Capitals’ defense took another curious approach to a developing play. A shot on net by Jenner trickled behind the goal line, prompting Johansen to shake off Marcus Johansson so he could retrieve the puck and curl around the net and back out in front. As Johansen emerged on the right side of the cage, the Capitals appeared to have completely forgotten about the puck carrier, allowing him to fire a backhander past Holtby to make it 4-0.
Joel Ward put Washington on the board and ended Sergei Bobrovsky’s shutout bid with a shorthanded goal late in the second, and Eric Fehr pulled the visitors within two less than four minutes into the third, but those goals would be of little consequence. Bobrovsky, who finished with 30 saves, wouldn’t yield another tally, and his teammates added one final marker by Cam Atkinson just 65 seconds later to squash any glimmer of a Capitals’ rally.
“It’s been a long time since we could say that we weren’t working hard, and even in that losing streak that we had I thought we were working hard and trying to do the right things,” Troy Brouwer said. “But tonight we didn’t help ourselves from the beginning of the game, getting behind early and not working hard, which is something that our team can’t do.”