OTTAWA — To watch the Washington Capitals in recent days is to wonder when things went wrong for a team that five months ago was often mentioned as a can’t-miss candidate to make a long run in the postseason. Wednesday night, the Ottawa Senators became the latest opponent to benefit from facing the disjointed shell of a team the Capitals have become.
Washington fell, 5-2, to the Senators at Scotiabank Place in another game that featured a team hopelessly stuck in the quicksand of its own bad habits. Star winger Alex Ovechkin sat out with a lower-body injury but his absence had little impact on the outcome. The Capitals demonstrated little spark en route to another demoralizing defeat and didn’t offer much resistance until the contest was out of hand — both goals came after they trailed 4-0.
The Capitals (29-26-5, 63 points) had another opportunity to pull even with Florida atop the Southeast Division, as well as Toronto and Winnipeg in a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they remain lodged in 10th in the East, having lost three straight and seven of their past 10.
“We’ve got to find a way to win games,” said Mathieu Perreault, who recorded one of Washington’s two goals. “Right now we’re out of the playoffs. We gotta find a way to get points no matter how we play. If we have a bad night, we have to find ways to tie games and do right things because right now it’s pretty awful.”
Considering the way they are limping toward Monday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline, it’s tough not to wonder whether General Manager George McPhee and team brass will opt to make more significant and numerous changes than it might have otherwise.
When Washington embarked on this four-game road trip seven days ago, players said repeatedly that they believed the team needed to split the contests at the very least. They went 1-3 and were outscored 13-5.
Like so many games this season, Washington allowed the Senators (32-22-8, 72 points) to get off to a head start. The Capitals have given up the first goal in all but 10 of 31 road games this season and are 6-13-2 when doing so. Wednesday, they spotted Ottawa a four-goal lead in the first 33 minutes of play.
“We feel that we gave up way too much way too early,” Troy Brouwer said. “You just can’t recover from it. It just feels like we let each other down, it feels like we were just giving away points when we need to be playing real good hockey to find a way to climb the standings.”
Erik Karlsson put the Senators up, 1-0, 9 minutes 36 seconds into the first, when the Capitals seemed to forget that the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen was on the ice. All five Washington players were on the left side of the zone when Jason Spezza sent a cross-ice pass to an open Karlsson at the top of the right circle. He released a wrist shot before anyone closed on him.
While the Capitals were creating a few chances and putting more shots on net than Ottawa, it was of little consolation when they fell behind 2-0 for the fifth time in the past six games. Milan Michalek undressed defenseman Dennis Wideman, slipping the puck through his skates en route to the net and beating Tomas Vokoun with less than six minutes remaining in the first.
“They jumped on us, Tomas would like a few of them back,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He wasn’t as sharp as he should have been, and it’s in the back of our net.”
“We need some big stops early, that’s part of the game. Tonight we played a good, solid road game and we lose,” Hunter said. “Goaltending is a big part of the game and we need good goaltending.”
In the second, Michalek redirected a point shot for a power-play goal at 3:37 and Chris Phillips blasted a one-timer on another man-advantage to make it 4-0 at 12:08. Those tallies chased Vokoun, who allowed four goals on 11 shots, and brought in Michal Neuvirth (14 saves).
The Capitals found some life in the third and chipped away at Ottawa’s lead with a power play one-timer by John Carlson and one by Perreault when the puck bounced off his mouth and into the net. Washington trailed 4-2 with 10:03 remaining but it was too late.
Nick Foligno scored into an empty net to make it 5-2 in the final minutes and leave Washington with another loss and more questions about how to turn around their play.
“There’s no special answer,” Perreault said. “We’ve just gotta execute our game plan and work hard like we did in the third period and then we start getting chances. . . . There’s no explanation it comes down to those of us in the dressing room to go out and put the effort.”