There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the Capitals were a lethal team both on home ice and against Metro Division opponents, but that hasn't been the case this season. The New York Islanders came into Capital One Arena on Monday night and took a 5-3 decision, handing the Caps their second straight dismal defeat to a divisional foe, and leaving them at 1-3-0 over a season-long four-game homestand at the outset of February.
For the sixth time in their last 11 games, the Caps were dented for four or more goals against on Monday. And for the second straight game and the third time in eight contests, Washington's starting goaltender did not finish the contest.
"We are going through a tough stretch right now," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We're losing those battles, we're making poor decisions with the puck, making some mental mistakes, and they're ending up in our net. We're finding ways to lose right now, whereas before we were finding ways to win earlier in the year. That's the adversity we're going through right now, and we've got to find a way."
By the middle of the second period, Washington was down 5-1. The Caps rallied to make the final look less lopsided, but they weren't able to overcome another early multi-goal deficit as they've done on a number of occasions this season, and as they did the last time they saw the Islanders on Jan. 18 in New York when they rallied from a 4-1 third-period deficit to take a 6-4 win.
"There was no panic in our game," says Islanders coach Barry Trotz. "Even in that last game when they came back, I thought we did some really good things, and every mistake we made ended up in the back of our net. I liked our start, obviously. I thought we were skating well. We didn't give them any transitional pucks, which is a real strength of their game."
The Caps found themselves down two goals before the first television timeout of the first period. Anthony Beauvillier started the visitors off by finishing a pretty tic-tac-toe play to make it 1-0 at 3:30 of the first period. Less than three minutes later, he scored again to make it a 2-0 game, this time potting a rebound after Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov made saves on Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, respectively, in short succession. Beauvillier's second goal of the game made it 2-0 at 6:16.
Washington cut into the lead with a John Carlson goal at 12:55 of the first, a right point drive that at first looked as though it might have been Alex Ovechkin's 699th career goal. But video showed the puck went in off Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk instead.
Video: NYI@WSH: Carlson nets goal off defender's body
With the two teams playing 4-on-4 hockey late in the period, New York restored its two-goal lead. The Isles won a draw in their own end, and defenseman Devon Toews got behind the Washington defense and beat Samsonov at 18:06 to send the Caps to the room in a two-goal hole.
The Isles made it 4-1 just 45 seconds into the second when Leo Komarov threaded a shot through Samsonov's pads. When Jordan Eberle scored to make it 5-1 at 10:36, Samsonov's night was over. Braden Holtby came on in relief, the first time the Russian rookie has been pulled in his NHL career.
Washington scored twice in the back half of the second to crawl back to within a pair. Lars Eller went to the net and cashed in a Carl Hagelin set-up at 11:25, and then T.J. Oshie scored a power-play goal for the second time in as many games. The Caps rotated in the midst of the man advantage, and Oshie's goal came on a one-timer while he was temping in Ovechkin's office at 16:59.
The Caps played better in what turned out to be a scoreless third period, but they were saddled with a third straight loss to a Metropolitan Division opponent on the homestand.
"I feel like we owed these guys one from last game [when] they came back," says Beauvillier. "A big win for us, a big four-pointer. I thought we did a good job of just coming out strong and getting big goals, just sticking with the plan and getting a big win."
Washington lost center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an upper body injury in the second period and he did not return. Reirden said more information as to Kuznetsov's status would be available on Tuesday after he is evaluated by the team's medical staff.
The Caps' lone win in the four games at Capital One was a 4-2 triumph last Tuesday over lowly Los Angeles - the last-place team in the Western Conference - and it took three Ovechkin goals in the final 6 minutes and 10 seconds to overcome a late 2-1 deficit in that game.
After Monday's loss to the Islanders, the Caps are now 16-9-4 on home ice this season, and they are 4-6-1 at home against divisional foes. Two-thirds of their regulation losses at home and overall have come against divisional opponents, and they are now under what passes for .500 in the modern NHL against Metro Division foes this season, sitting at 9-10-1 with eight divisional games left, including three against second-place Pittsburgh. Five of their eight losses by three or more goals have also come at the hands of Metro opponents.
"Maybe we think it's going to be a little easier because we are where we are in the standings," says Eller. "Every divisional game right now, they are fighting for playoff spots. So they're just playing with maybe more desperation than we do, and we've got to match that."
Video: Postgame | February 10