Roughly 24 hours after taking down the league's hottest team on the road, the Caps bowed meekly to the team that entered the game with the fewest wins and the fewest points in the league.
Video: Caps players talk after #CapsCanes
For the first time in a span of 37 games dating back to last February, the Carolina Hurricanes erupted for five goals in a game, scoring five unanswered against the Capitals and handing Washington a sound 5-1 whipping on Saturday night in Raleigh.
"They won all the races, they won all the battles and they executed better," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of the Hurricanes. "They were just a sharper team than we were."
Washington turned in perhaps its poorest defensive stanza of the season in the first period of Saturday's game against the Canes. Carolina routinely found time and space to fire shots from in tight and from the interior of the ice, and they scored on two of those opportunities.
In the first 20 minutes of Saturday's game, the Caps surrendered more grade A scoring chances from prime scoring areas than they normally do in the span of a couple of games. Why was that?
"A combination of things, probably," answers Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "Breakdowns in position and losing battles, really. A guy loses a battle, and you try to cover for a buddy and people are left open. Tonight, they were in dangerous areas of the ice. Give them credit. They played really hard, made things happen and pressured us into mistakes. And we made too many mistakes."
The Caps did get on the board first, going up 1-0 about half a minute after surviving the first power play of the game, an extra man opportunity on which the Canes had the Caps hemmed in their own end without the puck for virtually the entire two minutes.
Dmitry Orlov carried into the Carolina zone with speed, and as he reached the middle of the right circle, he left a drop pass for Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot. Kuznetsov ripped a wrist shot past Carolina netminder Cam Ward for a 1-0 Washington lead at 12:02.
Kuznetsov's shot on net was Washington's first in a span of 8 minutes and 11 second. His goal, as it would turn out, was the Capitals' high-water mark for the evening.
For the second time in as many nights, the Caps surrendered the game's second goal less than a minute after scoring the first. Carolina's Sebastian Aho netted the first goal of his NHL career, putting back the rebound of a Jordan Staal shot just 35 seconds after Kuznetsov's goal.
"To me, that was a shift where we were on our heels a little bit," says Trotz. "That [Kuznetsov goal] gave us a little push, and the next shift we go out and give up a goal. You're trying to build momentum, and we just gave it right back.
"Right there, that was sort of a telling sign it was not going to be our night."
Less than five minutes later, Aho set up Teuvo Teravainen for a one-timer from the slot, a shot that beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer and put the Canes on top to stay at 17:01 of the first.
If not for Grubauer, the Canes might have opened up a multiple-goal lead in the first period. Grubauer made excellent stops on Derek Ryan, Teravainen. Viktor Stalberg, Staal (twice) and Jeff Skinner. Carolina routinely got to the interior and frequently had time and space to pull the trigger. Ten of Carolina's first-period shots on goal came from inside of 30 feet away, and several of those came from the dangerous home plate area.
An intermission and a fresh sheet of ice did nothing to help the Caps' cause. By the time the Caps managed their first shot on goal of the second period, the deficit was 3-1. Staal struck on the power play at 5:59 of the second, potting the rebound of a Teravainen shot.
A lost defensive zone draw made the deficit deeper for the Caps midway through the second. Canes defenseman Klas Dahlbeck intentionally put a shot off the backboard, and Victor Rask was able to tuck it home easily from the near post.
Washington has plenty of offensive firepower and has shown itself capable of coming back from multiple-goal deficits, but you never got the sense such a comeback might be in the offing on this night. Chasing the game and the scoreboard on short legs against a fast team is rarely a recipe for success.
The Caps didn't help matters, either. From the time they fell down until game's end, they took five minor penalties that resulted in four penalty killing situations.
Aho finished the scoring with his second goal of the game, potting one into a vacated cage with 3:50 remaining after Trotz pulled Grubauer in favor of an extra attacker.
"They're a quick team," says Trotz of the Hurricanes. "When we turned pucks over, they made quick plays after that and we didn't do a good job of securing the puck. Our coverage wasn't very good.
"I just thought that they won all the little races and little battles. At the end of the day we didn't manage the puck well enough against a team that had a lot of detail in their game. We didn't have a lot of detail.
"I thought in the first period it could have been 5-1. Grubauer for me was in the first period, the first star. He was outstanding. I thought we'd settle in a little bit in the second, and they got the power-play goal and then they got the one of the backboards there. That one really hurt us. But we didn't have a lot of execution or a lot of juice tonight. We were flat and they didn't let us get back in the game."
Might Have Been Worse - Washington dropped a 5-1 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Saturday night. The loss is the Capitals' first by a margin of as many as four goals this season; the Caps have now lost by four or more goals only four times in their last 155 regular season games, a span of nearly two years.
It could have been worse.
Before Saturday's game was even five minutes old, Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer made an excellent save on Canes forward Derek Ryan on a shot from point blank range, right in front of the net. It was the first of several such saves for Grubauer in the first period, when 10 of the 16 shots he faced came from inside 30 feet away.
Carolina's first goal came a second after Grubauer made a brilliant stop on Jordan Staal. Sebastian Aho pounced on the rebound and scored from inside of 10 feet away, scoring his first NHL goal. Late in the period, Aho made a brilliant feed to set up the Canes' second goal, a one-timer from Teuvo Teravainen from the inside of the left circle. There were no white sweaters near Teravainen on that goal.
"I thought in the first period it could have been 5-1," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Grubauer for me was in the first period, the first star. He was outstanding."
The Caps have been through nights where they've scuffled through a lackluster first 20 minutes and their goaltending has kept them close. Frequently, Washington has been able to rebound in the second and third periods of such games. This was not one of those nights.
"We just weren't as sharp as we normally would be," says Caps right wing T. J. Oshie, "and we played a hungry hockey team that took advantage of that."
Grubauer deserved a much better fate, but he suffered his first loss of the season at the hands of the Hurricanes.
"It's a tough position for him," says Oshie, referring to Grubauer. "Typically, he gets the back end of back-to-backs and we've got to find a way to get wins there. He made some unbelievable saves in the first period and kept us in it, and we didn't recover for him. He's always playing great for us back there. I think that's the worst feeling we take out of this is that we kind of hung him out to dry there."
Giving It Back - For the second time in as many nights and as many games, the Caps scored the game's first goal against Carolina on Saturday. And for the second time in as many nights and as many games, they gave it right back on the next shift.
On Friday in Chicago, Jay Beagle's shorthanded goal was followed immediately with Brian Campbell's power-play goal for the Blackhawks. Given that the Hawks had the manpower advantage, that one didn't sting as much as Saturday's when Aho scored 35 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game's first goal, doing so on Washington's first shot on net in a span of 8 minutes and 11 seconds.
"Right there," says Trotz, "that was sort of a telling sign it was not going to be our night."
Offensive Bonanza - Carolina's final goal went into an empty Washington net with 3:50 remaining in the game; Trotz had pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker to try to spark something in the way of a late Washington rally.
When Aho netted his second of the night into the empty Caps' net, it marked the first time in 37 games (since last Feb. 19) that the Canes had scored as many as five goals in a game in a game.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday night at Giant Center. Hershey fell for the second time in as many nights, dropping a 4-3 shootout decision to the visitors.
With help from Chris Bourque and Madison Bowey, Jakub Vrana scored the game's first goal at 5:22 of the first period. The goal was Vrana's seventh of the season.
After Bridgeport took a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals in the first half of the second period, Hershey bounced right back. A mere 35 seconds after the Sound Tigers went up by one, Riley Barber netted his fourth of the season with help from Paul Carey and Bowey to make it a 2-2 game at 9:21 of the second. And 15 seconds after Barber scored, Chandler Stephenson netted his first of the season from Christian Thomas and Aaron Ness, restoring the Bears' one-goal lead at 3-2.
But Bridgeport tied the game at 3-3 before the end of the second, and after a scoreless third, the Sound Tigers prevailed in the postgame skills competition. Joe Cannata made 25 saves in a losing effort in the Hershey nets.
The 6-3-2-1 Bears are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they host the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays suffered a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Solar Bears in Orlando on Saturday night. Stingrays goaltender Adam Carlson stopped 28 of 30 shots in the South Carolina nets.
The 4-5-1-0 Stingrays face the Solar Bears in Orlando again on Sunday afternoon.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Capitals with 22:20 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four hits, five shots on goal and seven shot attempts … Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner each blocked two shots to lead the Caps and to account for all eight of Washington's blocked shots in the game … Kuznetsov scored his first goal in 10 games to account for all of Washington's offense, and he won nine of 15 face-offs (60%) … The rest of the Caps combined to win just 12 of 40 face-offs (30%) on the night … Canes goalie Cam Ward ended a personal five-game losing streak against Washington.