Jan. 23 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 27-16-6
Toronto Maple Leafs 29-17-2
Washington takes its fourth road trip in less than two weeks on Wednesday when it travels up to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. The game finishes up a set of back-to-back games for the Caps, and it also concludes a rugged 12-game patch of scheduling that takes the Capitals into their All-Star break/bye week. Wednesday's game against the Leafs is their last game until Feb. 1.
Given the way this month has gone for them, the Caps will certainly be glad to get to the break. But they're also in dire need of something to feel good about before that break gets underway, and Wednesday is their last chance to salvage some points - and put the brakes on a six-game (0-4-2) losing streak - before some much needed down time.
The Caps started this set of back-to-backs with a home game on Tuesday night against San Jose, a game in which they led by two goals midway through the third period. It should have marked the end of what was a five-game slide, but instead, the skid stretched to six in a 7-6 setback to the Sharks.
Video: WSH Recap: Ovechkin picks up 23rd hat trick in loss
Evander Kane tied the game at 6-6 with a last second buzzer beater in regulation, and Tomas Hertl scored in overtime to complete his hat trick and halt the Sharks' own three-game slide. San Jose won despite surrendering six goals for the fourth straight game.
Speaking of surrendering goals, the Caps have yielded 30 during their six-game losing streak, and they have given up 52 goals in their last 10 games (1-8-1) against Western Conference opponents. Tuesday's game marked the third time in the last four games that an opponent has victimized the Capitals for a hat trick.
Hertl's hat trick trumped Alex Ovechkin's 23rd career hat trick, leaving it as the only Ovechkin hat trick to be scored in a loosing effort. About 20 seconds before Kane's tying tally, Ovechkin threw the puck toward the vacated San Jose net in a bid for a fourth goal, but San Jose defender Brent Burns blocked the shot and started the Sharks up ice for Kane's late strike.
The Caps didn't protect the two-goal leads, didn't finish on a number of chances that would have widened that lead, and they failed to score on a few strong chances early in the overtime session. Their six-game slide is the Caps' longest in five years, since they dropped seven straight (0-5-2) from Jan. 12-24.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | January 22
Washington has also lost four straight in the District (0-2-2), its longest home losing streak since they dropped five in a row (0-3-2) from Dec. 4-15, 2010.
"The only way we're going to get out of it is to get back to work," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Washington's losing streak, its longest since a seven-game slide (0-5-2) five years ago this month. "The only way we are getting out of this is if we work our way out of it, because that's where you are really going to gain something as a team.
"If we would have won that game 6-5, it still isn't the right way to play hockey. It's great because we feel good because we got the win, but to trade chances, that's not how we are going to have success and we know that doesn't bring you long term gain.
"So it's disappointing. We're going to work through it [Wednesday]. It's not going to stop there. [Wednesday] we are going to come out and I'm expecting us to work as hard as we possibly can to improve in the areas that we're not. But it's not stopping there. It needs to be worked on. That was certainly a tough way to lose."
Reirden noted after the game that Ovechkin would play Wednesday against the Leafs, meaning the Caps captain will serve his one-game, league mandated suspension on Feb. 1 when the Caps return from their break to host the Calgary Flames. Ovechkin's suspension is for the crime of opting out of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, which is to be held this weekend in San Jose.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | January 22
Ovechkin's only other option for serving his suspension would be Wednesday's game against the Leafs. But coming off a hat trick outing, with the Caps riding their longest losing streak in half a decade and in need of some momentum and something to feel good about going into the break, the decision virtually made itself.
Toronto will also be playing its final game before a weeklong break on Wednesday, and the Leafs have been scuffling a bit recently as well. Toronto put together a five-game winning streak around the NHL's holiday break, scoring a combined total of 27 goals in those five contests. But since then, the Leafs have won only three of 10 (3-7-0), and they've found the back of the net only 24 times in that 10-game stretch.
While the Maple Leafs own one of the league's best road records at 16-6-1, Toronto has been merely ordinary at home (13-11-1) this season. Coming into Wednesday's game with Washington, the Leafs have lost four straight (0-4-0) and six of their last seven (1-6-0) at Scotiabank Arena.
Back on Oct. 13 in Washington, the Leafs downed Washington 4-2 in the only previous meeting between the two clubs in '18-19. The Caps will visit here again on Feb. 21, when they can stay a little longer.