From Jan. 1 through the end of the NHL's regular season on April 9, the Capitals won 20 of 23 games at Verizon Center, going 20-2-1 over that span. In the wake of Saturday's Game 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps now have as many home losses (three) in the playoffs as they had in the final three and a half months of the regular season.
After Saturday's 6-2 setback to the Penguins in Game 2, Washington has lost two straight home games for the first time all season, and it has played without a lead in two straight home games for the first time all season. The loss leaves the Caps down 2-0 in the series, and heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
Video: WSH Recap: Niskanen, Backstrom score in Game 2 loss
Washington vastly outplayed the Pens in the first period of Saturday's game, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. As was the case in Thursday's 3-2 Pittsburgh win in Game 1, the Penguins were able to get their sticks and bodies in the way of many of the Caps' best scoring chances. Washington had to work hard to create a volume of scoring chances, while scoring chances came all too easy for the Penguins.
Olli Maatta got a piece of a great Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring chance from the slot a mere 70 seconds into the game. Ian Cole went stick on puck to deny a Marcus Johansson bid some two minutes later. The pattern continued on, and by period's end, Washington owned a 35-8 lead in shot attempts, but only 16 of those shots got through to Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Most problematic for Washington, none of those shots found their way into the net behind Fleury.
In the second period, the Pens turned two of those many blocked shots into goals of their own, scoring the game's first goal on a Matt Cullen shorthanded breakaway. Ten seconds after Washington won an offensive zone draw on the power play, the puck was in the back of its net. Cullen blocked Kevin Shattenkirk's shot and turned it into a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead at 1:45 of the second.
Later in the second, Sidney Crosby blocked Justin Williams' shot and Jake Guentzel scored for the Pens on the ensuing two-on-one rush to expand Pittsburgh's lead to 3-1. That was the backbreaker for Washington.
For the first time in his 54 career Stanley Cup playoff starts, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby didn't finish the game. He was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third after yielding three goals on 14 shots.
"Obviously we thought we played all right in the first," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "We didn't capitalize, and that's what you've got to do. You've got to score more goals than the opponent. That's what hockey is all about, and we didn't. That's something that has to be our main focus for Game 3 here, going forward. Try to get more pucks going to the net and more traffic, the same things we talk about every day."
Video: Caps players talk after a lopsided loss in Game 2
Net Difference - For most of his NHL career, Holtby has been stellar in the playoffs only to suffer from a lack of offensive support. Entering this spring's playoff season, nearly half of his career playoff losses - 11 of 24 - came in games in which he permitted two or fewer goals against.
Eight games into the 2017 postseason, Holtby is struggling to find his groove. He has surrendered three or more goals in five of his eight starts, and is 4-4 in those eight games. His .911 save pct. and 2.62 GAA are the worst marks of his five postseasons in the NHL. Holtby's playoff save pct. this spring is the lowest among the eight remaining starting goaltenders, and his GAA is next to last among those eight netminders.
"I thought we just had to change the mojo in that situation," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of his decision to pull Holtby. "He'll tell you he can be better, as he always is. He is a straight up guy, and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo."
Video: Caps head coach Barry Trotz talks after Game 2
Alas, the mojo didn't change. The Caps were outscored 3-1 with Holtby in the nets and they were outscored 3-1 without him.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the ice, Fleury is 6-1 with a .936 save pct. and a 2.37 GAA in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. And Fleury wasn't even the Pens' No. 1 netminder going in; he was pressed into service when starter Matt Murray came up with a lower body injury during warm-ups before the Pens' first game of the 2017 playoffs.
"He is a great competitor, he is a great teammate and he has really risen to the challenge," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan of Fleury. "You look at tonight's game, they came at us pretty hard in the first period. They had a few high quality chances, he made some timely saves. He gave us a chance to get our game going.
"A lot of times it takes big plays at key times from people at different positions to win games at this time of year. And Marc is making big plays for us."
Video: Penguins head coach talks after a 6-2 win in Game 2
Climbing The Ladder - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin had a pair of assists in Saturday's game, giving him 43 career assists in Stanley Cup playoff action. He surpasses Mike Ridley (42) and Calle Johansson (41) and is now in fourth place on Washington's all-time playoff assists ledger.
Ovechkin is one helper shy of matching Scott Stevens (44) for third place on that list.
With three points (one goal, two assists) in this series, Ovechkin now has 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 15 career playoff games against the Penguins. He has picked up a point in 13 of his 15 career playoff contests against Pittsburgh.
Backstrom collected an assist on Matt Niskanen's second-period power-play goal and scored Washington's second goal of the game in the third period. With the assist, Backstrom moves into a tie with Dale Hunter (47) for the top spot in Washington's all-time playoff assists list.
Down On The Farm - Both of Washington's minor league affiliates also suffered playoff losses on Saturday night. The AHL Hershey Bears dropped a 4-1 home ice decision to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night at Giant Center, a loss that erases the 2-0 lead the Bears had in the best-of-five first-round series in the Calder Cup playoffs.
The Bears fell down 2-0 before the five-minute mark of the second period. Chandler Stephenson scored for Hershey late in the second, getting help from Riley Barber and Nathan Walker, but two Scott Laughton goals in the third iced it for the Phantoms.
Pheonix Copley stopped 34 of 37 shots in a losing effort in goal for the Bears.
Hershey must now go on the road and win a decisive Game 5 on Sunday afternoon in Allentown. The road team has won each of the four games to date in the series.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays lost by a 5-2 count in Game 2 of their second-round Kelly Cup playoff series with the Florida Everblades.
Andrew Cherniwchan scored both South Carolina goals, and Parker Milner made 18 saves for the Stingrays in a losing effort. Having gained a split (1-1) in the first two games on the best-of-seven series, the Stingrays now head home for the next three games, starting with Monday night's Game 3 at North Charleston Coliseum.
By The Numbers - Ovechkin led the Capitals with 23:19 in ice time and a dozen shot attempts; he and Shattenkirk had two blocked shots each to lead the Caps … Matt Niskanen led Washington with five shots on goal … John Carlson and T.J. Oshie led the Caps with five hits each … Lars Eller won 10 of 13 face-offs (77%) and Oshie won five of seven (71%).