One step backward, one step forward, and one step backward. Halfway through the Capitals' season-long six-game road trip, that's a summation of the tour to date.
Three nights after turning in one of their best 60-minute performances against a top team in a 5-1 win over the Sharks in San Jose, the Caps turned in another lackluster performance, falling 5-2 in Anaheim on Sunday to a Ducks team that entered the game with three wins in their last 23 contests. The trip started on Tuesday in Columbus with a 3-0 loss in another subpar Washington performance.
Are the Caps frustrated at following up Thursday's game with Sunday's performance?
"Yeah," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, "not just because we played well last game, but because we didn't play well enough tonight. These are meaningful games now, and we've got to take home points."
There was some hope that the Caps would be able to build on their strong outing in San Jose on Thursday, but that didn't happen. Washington spent most of the night chasing the Ducks and the puck, and they were never able to add to an early lead.
Although they didn't play well in the first, the Caps were able to take a 1-0 lead to the room at first intermission. Alex Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty on Ducks defender Hampus Lindholm at 2:58 of the first, and precisely two minutes later Ovechkin slipped a shot through Anaheim goalie Ryan Miller. The even-strength goal staked the Caps to an early advantage.
Washington had a great deal of difficulty getting through neutral ice all night long, and it managed only five shots on net at five-on-five in the game's initial period.
Miller stopped both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on breakaways minutes apart in the early portion of the second, keeping the Caps from expanding their lead. Those saves loomed large when the Ducks tied the game about a minute after Backstrom was thwarted.
A pair of details cost the Caps that lead early in the second. First, the Caps were guilty of icing the puck from right in front of the Ducks bench, just a few feet from the red line. Then they lost the ensuing right dot draw in their end, and Ducks center Adam Henrique tipped Brandon Montour's point drive past Braden Holtby from the right point, tying the game at 1-1 at 6:28 of the middle period. Only three seconds elapsed from the loss of the draw to the lighting of the lamp.
Holtby made a big right pad stop on Ryan Getzlaf during a sustained stretch of Anaheim presence in the Washington zone. But the Ducks grabbed a 2-1 lead not long afterwards.
Lindholm took Tom Wilson down as the two went to the corner for the puck in the Anaheim zone. With Wilson down and out and the Ducks on a delayed penalty call, Anaheim moved the puck up the ice and scored when Henrique and Silfverberg were both able to get behind the Washington defense, the former setting up the latter for an easy tap-in at 14:07 of the second.
The Caps got that goal back when Carlson's floater through traffic from the left point found purchase behind Miller at 17:01, making it a 2-2 game.
Holtby kept it that way, robbing Rickard Rakell with his glove hand late in the second. But the game took a final turn in Anaheim's direction about a minute later when Wilson was boxed for goaltender interference. Anaheim's Corey Perry pushed Wilson into Miller, but if there is one player in the league who isn't getting the non-call there, it's Wilson.
"There are some things you see differently than the refs," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "But that's the way it goes. You're going to like some, and not like some others. It's up to us to take advantage when we get a break on the power play, or do the job on the [penalty kill] if something doesn't go our way."
Anaheim took the lead on the carryover portion of that power play, going up 3-2 when Henrique notched his second of the night on a goalmouth scramble 37 seconds into the third. The Caps compounded the problem by taking two more penalties in short succession, and Anaheim made it a 4-2 game on the first of those power plays, Cam Fowler making a nice feed to set up Corey Perry's first goal of the season.
Whatever the Caps were doing to try to muck their way through neutral ice wasn't working, and the Ducks were continually able to come right back at the Caps in short ice situations. A power play chance in the back half of the third failed to bring the Caps closer, and Silfverberg made it 5-2 with 5:05 left, scoring on one of those short-ice rushes, aided somewhat by a Washington change.
Three nights after holding the league's second-highest scoring team to a single goal, the Caps yielded five goals to the league's most challenged offensive team. The Ducks reached Washington for 11 goals against in two games this season, with eight of them coming at five-on-five.
At night's end, the Caps sit 22nd in the league in goals against with an average of 3.19 per game. That's the worst mark of any of the 16 teams currently in a playoff position, and it's not the stuff from which Stanley Cup dreams are made.
"We were probably fortunate to be tied going into the third there," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. "It's easy to point to special teams and penalties, but there was a lot going on before that. We just weren't very sharp.
"Something we talked about before the game was that we've been a lot better at minimizing the odd-man rushes we were giving up. I think we gave up like three in then first five minutes. We weren't really sharp in a lot of areas."