DENVER — The doors to the locker room remained shut for slightly longer than normal as the Capitals addressed some unfamiliar complications. They'd rarely lost two games in a row over the past two seasons, much less lose them in such a lopsided fashion. There was blame to go around after a miserable a 6-2 loss to the Avalanche at Pepsi Center, and the Capitals owned their recent string of poor play.
“We talked about lots of stuff,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s all about us. It’s not about them or somebody else. We have to look at ourselves and make changes.”
This defeat came on the heels of a 6-3 loss in Nashville two nights earlier and marked the second straight game the Capitals lost by at least three goals, the first time that's happened since January 2014, before Barry Trotz took over behind the bench.
“I’m absolutely disappointed, angry, a lot of different emotions,” Trotz said. “I expected a lot better.”
After Trotz had his say in the locker room — “Barry is not happy,” forward Brett Connolly said — players were happy to throw themselves under the bus. Before this two-game road trip to Nashville and Denver, the Capitals had won six of their past eight, seemingly turning a corner from a rocky start to the season. They allowed just 16 goals in those eight games, but they’ve now coughed up 12 goals in the two games this week, with goaltender Philipp Grubauer surrendering six goals on 28 shots in Thursday’s debacle.
“Right from Grubi to Ovi, guys definitely need to look at themselves in the mirror,” Connolly said. “I think if you ask anybody, every guy on the team would agree with that.”
Washington was on a power play when defenseman Matt Niskanen had a turnover at the offensive blue line, which allowed Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog to race to the other end for a shorthanded breakaway. Niskanen tried to catch up, slashing at the Avalanche captain as he plowed toward the net. Landeskog was awarded a penalty shot that produced Colorado’s fourth goal. That sequence might have best typified how the game went.
“Those moments when you have a chance to either get a goal or get some momentum, they capitalized and took it all away,” Trotz said. “I just don’t like the last two games. For whatever reason, we’ve had poor starts and we haven’t been ready. I don’t think we’ve worked as hard in our battles. That’s how I judge if we’re going.”
After the Capitals collectively bemoaned their poor start in Nashville, with more than 17 minutes elapsing before their first shot on goal, they again found themselves trailing early when Landeskog scored right after the puck drop, beating Grubauer on the blocker side with the first shot of the game. Nathan MacKinnon then scored in the last minute of the first period to put the Avalanche up 2-0 at first intermission. Washington never got close after that.
Landeskog scored on a power play in the last minute of the game to complete the hat trick. MacKinnon finished with a five-point game.
“There’s not enough urgency,” Tom Wilson said. “It can spiral. You come out, they score a couple goals, guys are maybe trying to cheat a little bit on the offensive end and then another puck goes in your net. It’s not about x’s and o’s right now. . . . If you talk to their guys, they probably felt like it was a pretty easy game. And that’s a joke. There’s no excuses. We can’t make any excuses. It’s unacceptable.”
Just as this game and the team's game in Nashville spiraled away from the Capitals, so could the season. Washington is still just four points off the Metropolitan Division lead, but with the standings so jam-packed, a collection of poor efforts like Thursday's can quickly devolve into one long season.
“The identity of this team is that we don’t really accept failure,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t really matter what happened before. This little skid that we’re on, we’ve got to get out of that. We know we can play good hockey. We’re definitely capable of that. I think we just need a little more determination, a little more urgency. It’s unacceptable to have the effort that we did in two games on the road.”