ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Washington Capitals fell into a rare two-game losing streak this past week, Coach Barry Trotz described it as “awkward.” The team has rarely strung together consecutive poor performances. Following a third straight regulation loss, Trotz still described it as awkward for a dressing room that hadn’t experienced that yet this season.
Does a fourth straight regulation loss move the Capitals from awkward to concerned? The Anaheim Ducks’ 5-2 win over Washington on Sunday night means the Capitals return home from their California trip with no points and riding their first four-game slide since November 2014.
For a sixth straight game, Washington failed to score more than two goals. Superstar winger Alex Ovechkin is mired in a career-worst goal drought of 10 games, and it has been 18 since he has scored an even-strength goal, which is also a career worst.
Before the game, Trotz said the Capitals “need a win,” something you wouldn’t often hear from the coach of the NHL’s first-place team. But for the first time in more than two years, Washington was coming off three straight regulation losses, and the struggles in the first two stops of the California road trip had allowed the team’s Metropolitan Division competition to tighten the race for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh’s victory late Saturday night moved the Penguins to just one point back of the Capitals. The Columbus Blue Jackets were just three points behind Washington before Sunday night’s game. Falling to the No. 2 seed in the division would make for a significantly harder first-round matchup for the Capitals.
The reason for the Capitals’ recent struggles is a decline in scoring since their bye week last month. The Capitals were 17-2-1 going into the break and are 5-6-1 since. Washington was averaging 4.65 goals during that hot stretch, but the team has been held to fewer than four goals in 10 of the past 12 games.
Considering the Capitals were supposed to be feeling some desperation to snap their losing skid, they started slowly against Anaheim. After a scoreless first period, a turnover by Lars Eller behind the goal line in Washington’s zone lead to Corey Perry’s goal 4:52 into the second period.
The Capitals got a gift in the form of a Ryan Getzlaf offensive-zone tripping penalty, but rather than take advantage on the power play, Washington found itself in a four-on-four situation after Nicklas Backstrom was called for tripping shortly into the power play. Less than five minutes later, Perry scored his second goal deflecting a shot by Ryan Kesler on the rush.
Rickard Rakell lifted the Ducks to a 3-0 lead 28 seconds after Kesler scored, unfurling a snap shot off an offensive zone faceoff. The Capitals chipped away at the lead with John Carlson’s power-play goal, but they couldn’t get any closer.
The four straight regulation losses are one of Washington’s worst stretches under Trotz. When Washington didn’t get any points against the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-2 loss late Saturday, Trotz believed the Capitals had moved in the right direction because they hadn’t played poorly and ran into some bad luck when two pucks clanged off posts.
Likely feeling the effects of fatigue in a third game in four nights on the West Coast, Washington took a step back against Anaheim. For a second straight game, the Capitals took six minor penalties, three of which were committed in the offensive zone.
With the team down two goals to start the third period, Jay Beagle was whistled for tripping in the offensive zone, and then T.J. Oshie joined him for slashing, extending the Ducks’ power play. Getzlaf then scored, making that the fourth power-play goal Washington has given up in the past three games.
The Capitals endured a late-season slide last season after the all-star break, and they ended the regular season on a 7-5-3 run before being ousted in the second round of the playoffs. The Capitals won’t get any help from the schedule in snapping this current skid, hosting the Minnesota Wild, the Western Conference’s top team, in their next game Tuesday night.