Down Home Blues - Back in mid-December, the Caps had built up enough standings equity that they would be able to play .500 hockey over their final 45 games and they would still finish with more than 100 points. That certainly wasn't the plan then, but that's how it has played out since.
After starting with an unsustainably torrid 26-6-5 record through their first 37 games, the Caps are now a lackluster 11-11-1 in their last 23. Continuing at that pace, they'll finish with 102 points, but few would expect much of them come playoff time. Through the first 37 games, the Caps looked as though they could contend for a second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. Through their last 23 games, the Caps are tied with the New York Islanders for last place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, and they no longer carry the sheen of a Cup contender.
In the wake of Thursday night's 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps find themselves with five losses in their last six games (1-4-1) both overall and at home. Washington has won only 16 of its 30 home games (16-9-5) this season, and it has yielded an average of 3.1 goals per game at Capital One Arena. If the Caps continue at that pace, they'll end up surrendering 127 goals on home ice, the most since they permitted 135 back in 2006-07. That was Alex Ovechkin's sophomore season in the NHL, a 70-point campaign for the Caps.
Washington reached the 80-point plateau by virtue of Tom Wilson's late goal to force overtime, just before Ben Chiarot's second goal of the game won it for the Canadiens in the first minute of the extra session, ending Montreal's five-game losing streak.
Wilson's goal spared the Caps the ignominy of a third straight regulation loss, a fate they still haven't suffered this season. Washington has lost three straight games (0-2-1), doing so for the first time since the season's first week when they went 0-1-2 from Oct. 5-10. Wilson's goal was Washington's eighth 6-on-5 goal this season, tops in the NHL.
Video: MTL@WSH: Wilson nets own rebound, ties it late
Their 23-game run of mediocrity began in Boston with a 7-3 loss on Dec. 23, so it has stretched for nearly two months now, too long to be considered "a slump." The Caps aren't playing their brand of hockey for enough of the 60 minutes from night to night, and they're not nearly as difficult to play against as they were earlier in the season.
"We've got to chip it in a little smarter, not just chip it in for the sake of doing it," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of the team's inconsistent forecheck. "We've got to come in with all three guys. We've got to help each other out a little bit better. Right now, I feel like we're just giving the puck away, and that's not good enough."
Washington scored the game's first goal for the first time in seven games on Thursday. The Caps are now 21-3-4 when they score first, but they've lost each of the last two games (0-1-1) in which they've done so.
One More - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored the game's first goal - and the 699th of his NHL career - at 7:29 of the first, converting seconds after Backstrom won a draw in Montreal ice. The goal ended a five-game drought without a point, matching the longest dry spell of Ovechkin's career.
Now a goal shy of becoming the eighth player in league history to reach the 700-goal plateau, Ovechkin and the Caps have three games in the next four days with which to get the milestone goal before Washington embarks upon another Western road trip - to Winnipeg and Minnesota - next week.
The Caps are in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon, and they host Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and Winnipeg on Tuesday night before departing on Wednesday.
Dillon Debut - Newly acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon made his Caps debut on Thursday night against Montreal, a little over 48 hours after the team finalized the trade that brought him to the District from San Jose.
Dillon's debut was a mixed bag; he made a nifty stick play early to break up a 2-on-1 and his breakout passes were mostly solid, but he and partner John Carlson were on the ice for each of the first three Montreal goals of the game.
"Just a few pucks bouncing, and on two of them, defensemen getting shots through," says Dillon of the goals against. "Maybe we can try and block or get in a lane, or try and help out and get those ones not going in.
Video: Postgame | February 20
"I think at the end of the day, it's just going to get better from here. Just another day of practice [Friday] and we'll continue to build that chemistry."
Dillon finished the night with 20:22 of ice time. Forty-eight seconds of that time came while the Caps were shorthanded, and the rest was at evens. Dillon chalked up one shot on net, one hit and one blocked shot in suiting up for his third NHL organization.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 25:36 in ice time … Ovechkin and Wilson led the Caps with six shots on net each, and Ovechkin led the way with nine shot attempts … Nic Dowd led Washington with five hits … Carlson and Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals with three blocked shots each … Dowd won six of nine draws (67 percent), but the rest of the Caps combined to win just 17 of 49 face-offs (34.7 percent).