It had been quite a while since the Capitals lost a game by as many as six goals, and it had been even longer since they had surrendered as many as eight goals over the course of a 60-minute game. But the Caps managed both of those ignominious feats on Saturday night at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, taking an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Flyers.
"We have trouble with the Caps a couple times," says Flyers' captain Claude Giroux. "They actually beat us 7-1 a couple times. So it is good to kind of return the favor."
Video: WSH Recap: Defense can't contain Flyers in 8-2 loss
Saturday night started well enough for the Capitals, who were supplying the opposition for the Flyers' 2017-18 home opener. Sure, the Caps surrendered the game's first goal to Philly's Sean Couturier at 7:18 of the first, but they got it back just over two minutes later when Evgeny Kuznetsov's passing wizardry set up Jakub Vrana's second goal in as many nights.
Playing the second half of a set of back-to-backs, the Caps got a chance to take a lead late in the first when Philadelphia was guilty of one of its few mistakes on the night, a bench minor for too many men that aborted a Flyers' power play.
Washington was not able to take advantage of that abbreviated power play. Worse, Philly's Scott Laughton broke up John Carlson's intended cross-ice pass, leaving the puck loose midway between Laughton and Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer endeavored to come out and pokecheck the disc away from Laughton, but didn't get enough wood on it. Laughton scored a layup of a shorthanded goal with just 62 seconds left in the first, and the Caps weren't able to get to the locker room all even after 20 minutes; instead they were down a goal at 2-1.
By the time the Caps were able to muster their next shot on net, the hole had widened to 4-1.
Carlson went to the box for slashing early in the second, and Philly made it 3-1 on the ensuing power play. Jakub Voracek twisted rookie Caps defenseman Madison Bowey - making his NHL debut - into a knot before feeding Wayne Simmonds for a back door tap-in that proved to be all the offense Philadelphia would require on this night.
Giroux scored at 10:32 to make it a 4-1 game for the Flyers, and Caps center Nicklas Backstrom issued almost an immediate response, scoring on Washington's first shot on net of the second period at 10:45, cutting the lead back to 4-2. The goal extended Backstrom's scoring streak to five straight games, and it was one of the last signs of life from the Caps on the evening.
Valtteri Filppula's goal at 17:05 of the second really put it out of reach.
Washington looked weary the rest of the way, and it was playing its sixth game in 10 nights and finishing up its first set of back-to-backs this season. While Philadelphia sat idle since Tuesday, the Caps played a pair of games against divisional foes Pittsburgh (on Wednesday) and New Jersey (on Friday). Every team's schedule helps pick out a few of the games it will lose every season.
But Washington didn't help itself, either. In the third period, the Caps lazily dumped a puck on net from neutral ice rather than trying to make a play after gaining possession in neutral ice. Another time, a three-on-one rush in the making was developing, only to morph into an icing call against Washington because of grievously errant pass.
Mistakes were made. Pucks were turned over and otherwise mismanaged. Soft plays were made when harder plays were needed.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | October 14
"I thought the first period we looked good," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Obviously, we gave up the short-handed goal [late in the first]. I thought we were okay until we got a little bit tired. We started turning pucks over.
"When you play back-to-backs, you cannot mismanage the puck the way we did. You've got to be smart with it; you've got to place it. We were trying to go through a lot of structure one-on-one and you can't do that. It just kept coming down our throat.
"It's a good lesson for us. We didn't have the jump in the second half. The schedule probably caught up to us a little bit, but we weren't good enough."
The Flyers poured on three more goals in the third, the third crooked number they put on the scoreboard in as many periods. Philadelphia was rested and ready, and more than amped up for the home opener. But the Flyers also executed consistently and played a firmer, tighter game. They deserve full marks for playing virtually a perfect game against a weary team.
"We wanted to jump on them immediately," says Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, "We knew they had a couple defenseman out, too. So I think that was made it even more vital for us to jump on them from the start, I thought we did a good job of that and we carried it through 60 minutes."
Teams will have nights like the Capitals had on Saturday; the trick is to minimize them. The Caps have managed to do so quite well for the last decade or so, but with the salary cap shifting their personnel toward youth on the blueline, and the placing of durable two-way defenseman Matt Niskanen on long-term injured reserve on Saturday morning, it may become more of a challenge going forward.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 14
The schedule finally eases up for the Caps on Sunday, giving them their first two-day gap between games in this young season. But the schedule also brings the Toronto Maple Leafs to town for the Capitals' next game, yet another one-game homestand. It's one of six straight one-game homestands for the Caps to start 2017-18. They won't play consecutive home games until mid-November, and soon after that, they'll spend 23 of 24 nights in their own beds. Neither extreme is anywhere close to ideal.
Stopping the high-octane Toronto attack was difficult enough last season when Washington boasted the league's best defense. It's not going to be any easier come Tuesday night.
The schedule isn't supposed to be perfect, because the regular season isn't supposed to be easy, and making the playoffs isn't easy either. The idea is to tread water through the most difficult of stretches, and then fatten the standings wallet with points during the evener parts of the slate.
With that in mind, seven points in six games for the Caps thus far is fine. But the rugged stretch of schedule continues for the next month or so, impending two-day respite aside. How the Caps fare over the first quarter of 2017-18 may also indicate how they fare over the season as a whole.