Washington's two-game road trip to Nashville and Denver this week did not go at all as the Capitals had hoped. Winners of five of their previous six games as they left for Music City on Monday, the Caps are also embroiled in a tight race for positioning in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings as the one-quarter mark of the 2017-18 season approached.
But slow starts in both cities proved to be too much for the Caps to overcome, and they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Predators in Nashville on Tuesday before falling down 6-2 at the hands of the Avalanche in Colorado on Thursday. It took the Caps only 17 seconds to fall behind 1-0 on Thursday night, and they were never again within a goal of the Avalanche once Colorado netted the game's second goal in the final minute of the first frame.
While the Caps were going pointless, some of their rivals were picking up points. Thursday's loss leaves the Caps in fifth place in the tightly bunched Metro Division standings. They're four points south of the top spot in the division and they're three points north of the cellar.
The back-to-back regulation setbacks while surrendering six or more goals in each game represents rather unfamiliar territory for these Capitals. Prior to this week, the last time it happened was Oct. 7-8, 2005 in the second and third games of Alex Ovechkin's NHL career. The Caps lost a 7-3 decision to the Atlanta Thrashers on Oct. 7 and were drubbed 8-1 at the hands of the same team the next night in Atlanta in the back end of a home-and-home set.
Video: WSH Recap: Capitals struggle in 6-2 loss to Avs
Powerless - There wasn't much at all to like in the aftermath of Thursday night's defeat at the hands of the Avalanche. Caps coach Barry Trotz did manage to come up with a couple bright spots.
"There were only two areas where I thought we were pretty good tonight," says Trotz. "Face-offs - I thought we were pretty good in the face-off circle. And I thought our power play actually generated a lot of [scoring] chances and a lot of [offensive] zone time, which was good to see. They're starting to come around."
Washington won 43 of 67 draws (64%) and Trotz is correct about the Caps power play looking sharper, and the unit did come up with a goal, albeit a rather meaningless one late in the third period when the game was already out of hand. What was rather vexing was that Washington's extra-man corps was unable to convert on some earlier chances that might have helped the Caps climb back into the contest. And even worse, three times during Thursday's game - once in each period - Colorado scored a goal of its own within a minute after executing a successful penalty kill against Washington's power play outfit.
Down 1-0, the Caps got the game's first power play at 17:12 of the first. That extra-man opportunity generated three shots, but the Avalanche scored less than 45 seconds after the power plat expired, going up 2-0 on a Nathan MacKinnon goal with just 6.2 seconds left in the first frame.
Still down 2-0 as the midpoint of the game approached, the Caps went on their second power play of the game at 9:31 of the second. Again the Caps could not cash in, and Colin Wilson tallied for the Avs 54 seconds after the kill, making it 3-0.
The Caps finally got on the board with a Brett Connolly goal late in the second, and Washington executed a successful coach's challenge in the final minute of the second period, wiping an Avalanche goal off the board with 23.3 seconds left. That Nikita Zadorov non-goal would have made it a 4-1 game going into the third, but instead the Caps were down 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Washington went on the power play at 2:43 of the third period, and a goal at that point would have made it a 3-2 contest. Ovechkin missed twice from his left dot office and the Caps had three other shots that went on net during that power play but again, no lamplighters.
Seconds after the power play expired, Avs forward Gabriel Landeskog took off on a breakaway. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov issued a hack from behind, and Landeskog was awarded a penalty shot. The Colorado captain beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer for the second of his three goals on the night, and that goal came just 16 seconds after the Washington power play expired.
"You're not going to score on every power play, but you can build some momentum and that's what you're looking for," says Trotz. "I think it was their [fourth] goal actually, we had some really good looks and I thought we were going to score on that power play. I think [T.J. Oshie] even rang it off the post, from the outside. And [the Avs] come down next shift - right after - and score a goal."
It was that kind of night.
Video: Caps 365 | November 16
No Leads - Once again, the Caps weren't able to generate a lead for Grubauer, who is still seeking his first victory of the season (0-5-1). Grubauer has made eight appearances this season, including six starts. He has been afforded the extreme luxury of playing with a lead for all of 34:04 this season, all of it in his first start of the campaign on Oct. 9 against the Lightning in Tampa.
Grubauer has now been in the nets for 353 minutes and 11 seconds consecutively without playing with a lead. Washington has scored a grand total of five goals in Grubauer's last four starts, and it has scored a total of 10 goals in his six starts this season.
Including his two relief appearances, Grubauer is receiving an average of 1.78 goals worth of offensive support per 60 minutes in the nets this season.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 16
Hats Off - Landeskog's hat trick was the first of his NHL career, and he completed it with less than half a minute remaining in the game.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Landeskog entered Thursday's game with 123 career goals in the league. He was the only player in Quebec Nordiques/Avalanche history with as many as 100 goals for the franchise who had never recorded a hat trick for the Nords/Avs.
As noted earlier, Landeskog's second goal came on a penalty shot. He joins Chris Stewart as just the second player in franchise history to have a penalty-shot goal as part of a hat trick, again according to the good folks at Elias. Stewart turned the trick on March 6, 2010 against St. Louis.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 16
Man Down - Colorado rookie forward Vladislav Kamenev was making his Avalanche debut on Thursday after being obtained from Nashville in the three-team blockbuster deal earlier this month, a trade in which Ottawa was the third swapping partner.
Kamenev absorbed a hard open ice hit from Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik in the second period of Thursday's game, and he did not return. The Avs later announced that Kamenev suffered a broken arm on the play.
Teenage Phenom - Colorado also received 19-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard in its aforementioned three-team trade earlier this month. From the looks of his performance on Thursday, he's the centerpiece of the swap.
Playing in his eighth NHL game, Girard skated 21:33 on Thursday against the Caps, assisting on Nathan MacKinnon's last-minute goal in the first period. That ice time total includes 15:14 of even-strength ice time, and Girard finished second only to blueline partner Erik Johnson in both of those categories among all Avs skaters.
Girard showed excellent patience and poise that belies his age, and he clearly has the confidence of the Colorado coaching staff. If Girard remains in the NHL for two more games this season, his entry-level contract will activate. Bet on it happening, because he looks like that rare teenaged blueliner who can play a top four at the NHL level.
In three games with the Avs, he has skated more than 21 minutes in each, picking up a pair of assists and seeing significant power play time.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Capitals with 24:53 in ice time and five blocked shots … Ovechkin and Madison Bowey led the Caps with four shots on net each, and Ovechkin and Carlson each had seven shot attempts to lead Washington … Oshie led the Caps with six hits … Evgeny Kuznetsov won 13 of 15 face-offs (87%) and Nicklas Backstrom won 10 of 16 (63%).