At the outset of Saturday's Caps-Flyers game, all eyes were on Alex Ovechkin and his pursuit of 700 goals. But by the first television timeout of the second period, many of the Washington faithful in the packed Capital One Arena were likely looking away, and those who weren't were almost certainly covering their eyes.
And from there, it only got worse.
The Caps unraveled like a cheap sweater over the final 40 minutes, giving up three goals on four shots in a span of just 105 seconds early in the second, the first trio of six unanswered goals on the way to an ugly 7-2 loss to the Flyers.
"We lost every aspect of the game tonight," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And when you're going to do that in this league against a divisional opponent, then you're not going to have success."
It was one of the worst overall performances the Caps have turned in on home ice in a number of years, their most lopsided loss of the season, and the first time they lost by as many as five goals on home ice in more than four years, since a 5-0 whitewashing at the hands of the San Jose Sharks here on Oct. 13, 2015, a game that Ovechkin sat out for disciplinary reasons after he overslept and missed the morning skate that day.
Philadelphia came to town smarting from an ugly loss of its own, a 5-0 home ice shutout at the hands of the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
"We're a good team," says Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, "and this is a tough league. There are no bad teams, and everybody works hard, and everybody prepares. Tonight, we were obviously fortunate that we capitalized on some of our looks."
Braden Holtby had a strong first period to keep the Caps in it for the first 20 minutes, making a trio of stellar saves on Kevin Hayes. The first was on a breakaway, the second on the follow-up, and the third came when he challenged Hayes in the slot, using his left pad to kick the shot out. All three of those shots came about because of egregious defensive miscues in front of him, but Holtby couldn't hold back the tide of turnovers and giveaways to come.
Each team had a power play chance in the first, and each team quickly took advantage of the opportunity to light the lamp. First, the Flyers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 15:22 when Sean Couturier struck from the left dot, just nine seconds after Jonas Siegenthaler was boxed for a hooking violation.
Video: Postgame | February 8
Just under three minutes later, the Caps tied it on a power play of their own. Backstrom and Jakub Vrana combined to set up T.J. Oshie in the diamond, and the sharpshooting winger scored his 20th of the season to tie the game at 18:18.
That turned out to be the high-water mark of the night for the Caps.
The deluge started early in the second when Radko Gudas' errant exit feed was picked off by Nicolas Aube-Kubel in neutral ice and quickly converted into a 2-on-1 tally from Michael Raffl after Aube-Kubel fed him at 1:45, putting the Flyers back on top, 2-1.
Fourteen seconds later, Philly's No. 14 - Couturier - netted his second of the night on a breakaway.
Two odd-man break goals in 14 seconds wasn't bad enough; Philly made it 4-1 91 seconds later when James van Riemsdyk tipped a Matt Niskanen point shot past Holtby at 4:30. Reirden called his timeout, but it was to no avail. There would be no magical comeback on this night.
Washington had the game's next three power play opportunities, and a chance to jump back into the contest, but that unit has been spinning its wheels for more than two months now, and it managed just one shot on net in those six minutes of time with the extra man.
In the third, Philly poured on another trio of tallies. Aube-Kubel cashed in on a Michal Kempny pass that rolled off Evgeny Kuznetsov's stick blade at 2:58, making it 5-1. Later in the third, Aube-Kubel would complete the Gordie Howe hat trick when he got into a brief scrap with Washington's Brendan Leipsic.
Travis Konecny scored at 5:47 to make it a 6-1 game, and with the Caps facing a 5-on-3 power play, Claude Giroux scored to make it 7-1 at 8:02. With Philly still on the power play, Reirden pulled Holtby in favor of Ilya Samsonov, who faced only one shot the rest of the way.
Kuznetsov accounted for the 7-2 final - and broke the spell of six straight Philadelphia goals - when he slipped a shot through Flyers goalie Brian Elliott with 7:43 left. Rookie defenseman Martin Fehervary collected his first NHL point on the goal, earning the second assist.
Video: Reirden Postgame | February 8
The Caps are a lackluster 3-3-0 since the break, beating three non-playoff teams and losing to a pair of division rivals in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. After this debacle, the Caps felt bad for letting Holtby hang out to dry.
"I didn't like what we did," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "[Holtby] has been there for us his whole career, and certainly tonight we didn't give him anything to work with. He kept it as close as humanly possible for as long as possible.
"That's a crappy spot for a goalie that means so much to this team and works as hard as he does. I think everybody felt that way in here tonight. We just didn't do enough for him to have a chance."
Philadelphia avenged itself from its Thursday loss to the Devils, and picked up a pair of crucial points in the process.
"I'm really proud of the guys," says Niskanen. "I think we approached it the exact that we needed to. We acknowledged how bad and how embarrassing we were the other night, and brought one of our best efforts of the season tonight."
The Caps would do well to take a page out of that book on Monday when they host the New York Islanders.