What a difference a week makes.
Last Sunday, the Caps were enjoying an off day at home and basking in the afterglow of a hard-earned, 2-1 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, a triumph that extended Washington's franchise record home winning streak to 15 straight games.
A week later, the Caps are preparing to head back home after a fruitless three-game California trip leaves them saddled with a four-game losing streak, the first time they've dropped four straight games in regulation since Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2014.
Three goals against in less than five minutes ahead of the midpoint of the second period sparked the Capitals' undoing on Sunday against the Ducks in Anaheim, in the finale of Washington's three-game trip to the Golden State. The Ducks broke open what had been a scoreless game, and the Caps chased the game the rest of the way but came out on the short end of a 5-2 score.
Video: Condensed Game: Capitals @ Ducks
"We have a group of guys who have worked together for a long time," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, now without a goal in 10 straight games for the first time in his NHL career. "We don't remember the last time we've lost four in a row, and that's a good thing. It's nice it's happening before the playoffs and not during the playoffs. It's frustrating because the puck won't go in, but we have to work harder and fight through it."
It's not just the four-game slide that has the Capitals in unfamiliar territory, either. Washington has come away without a single point in a trip against all three California teams for the first time since Oct. 26-31, 1999. And the Capitals have also gone six straight games without scoring more than two goals for the first time in more than a decade, since a similar run of half a dozen straight games from Nov. 15-25, 2006.
For the second time in three games on the trip, Washington's top players were outplayed by the opposition's best.
Video: Caps players talk after the loss in Anaheim
"That's absolutely correct," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "We had some chances on the power play that we have to capitalize on. And overall, at five-on-five, we can be a little bit better."
Anaheim's trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler each scored and totaled three points, and Perry scored twice.
"You look at it on the scoresheet," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They got the production [from their best players], and we didn't get it from ours. But I've got a lot of trust in our leadership and our group. They're just going through a dry spell. We're going through a little bit of a tough time here."
What was a seven-point lead over Columbus in the Metropolitan Division standings a week ago has shriveled to a single-point lead over second-place Pittsburgh as the Caps prepare to head back east for a two-game homestand.
Video: Trotz talks after a 5-2 loss in Anaheim
The second period started ominously, as Getzlaf carved into Washington ice on a carryover power play and cut directly to the net. He let go of a backhander from in tight, and Caps goalie Braden Holtby made the stop.
But before the period was five minutes old, the Ducks would score the game's first goal on Washington miscue. Lars Eller's attempt to move the puck up ice from the left wing corner of the Caps' zone ended up instead right on Perry's stick. Perry drove directly to the net, pulled Holtby out of position and deposited the disc for a 1-0 Anaheim lead at 4:52.
Holtby bailed out John Carlson, whose turnover in Washington ice led to a two-on-none chance for the Ducks. Holtby denied Perry from in tight on that play, but several seconds later Perry scored anyway, deflecting a Ryan Kesler shot from the high slot past Holtby at 9:21.
A mere 28 seconds after Perry's second goal of the game, Rickard Rakell scored off a set face-off play. Getzlaf won the draw from the Caps' Evgeny Kuznetsov and Rakell fired a wrist shot past Holtby to make it 3-0 on Anaheim's third goal in less than five minutes time.
Washington carved into the lead on a Carlson power-play goal at 12:10 of the second, and the Caps went into the third period in a two-goal hole.
Video: WSH@ANA: Carlson drills home a slap shot for PPG
Penalties have plagued the Caps of late, and that was the case again on Sunday. A pair of Washington minors in short succession resulted in a two-man advantage of 41 seconds in duration for the Ducks early in the third. The Caps navigated their way through the two-man disadvantage, but fell back down by three goals when Getzlaf scored on the remaining portion of the second minor at 4:27, putting the Ducks up 4-1 at that point.
Washington answered quickly, making it a 4-2 game 30 seconds later when Marcus Johansson was credited with his 22nd of the season and the 100th goal of his NHL career. Johansson's goal came on a bouncing biscuit that bounded into the net after pinballing off a number of bodies and sticks in front.
Video: WSH Recap: Carlson, Johansson tally in Caps' 5-2 loss
Kesler scored his goal at 12:42 of the third to account for the 5-2 final and sent the Caps packing sticks and gear - but no standings points - for the long ride back home where Washington's next opponent already awaits. The Minnesota Wild arrived in the District late Sunday afternoon after facing the Blackhawks in Chicago.
"Adversity is a great teacher," says Trotz. "You find out a lot about the guy next to you and you find out a lot about the group. And we haven't had a lot in the last couple of years.
"I had to ask someone, 'When was the last time we lost four straight?' It's been a couple of years. This group has been very good. You have to go through things to be better, and this is going to make us better, this is not going to make us worse.
"Because what I know about this group is that they're close, they're learned and they will take this little piece. We didn't have a very friendly and fruitful California trip. I think this whole trip will identify to us areas that we can be better. And those areas, we'll get through it."