For the better part of a month, the Washington Capitals laid waste to virtually everything in their path, rolling over some very good hockey teams en route to an impressive 14-game point streak (12-0-2) during which they won nine straight games at one point.
Playing their second game in as many nights and in their third city in as many days, the Caps were finally waylaid on Tuesday in Ottawa, as the Senators turned in an impressive performance of their own in a 3-0 whitewash of the Capitals. Washington was vying to match a franchise record for most consecutive games earning at least a point.
Video: Caps players talk after a 3-0 loss to Ottawa
"You've got to give [the Senators] credit," says Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney. "They played a solid game all night. Anytime we got a little momentum going, we couldn't really sustain it. They did a good job of sticking to their game plan. And those two goals they got early, it's tough to dig yourself a hole like that and come back."
Ottawa netminder Mike Condon made 31 saves to earn his second shutout of the season.
Tuesday's setback to the Sens came in the Caps' 16th game in a span of 29 nights, and it was just their second regulation loss (12-2-2) during that grueling stretch. It's also Washington's first defeat by a margin of more than one goal in nearly two months, since a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Dec. 1 at Verizon Center.
"I don't want to take anything away from [the Senators]," says caps coach Barry Trotz. "Obviously, we dug ourselves an early hole. And then every time we got some momentum, we took an untimely penalty. We did that a couple of times."
Video: Trotz talks after a 3-0 loss in Ottawa
Washington earned the game's first power play on the game's first shift, but it was the Sens who jumped out to an early lead while Dion Phaneuf was in the box for slashing Alex Ovechkin.
Ottawa defenseman Fredrik Claesson picked off a Marcus Johansson pass near the right circle of the Sens' zone and left the puck for Tom Pyatt, who skated it out of the zone and fed Chris Kelly. Pyatt and Kelly exchanged the puck a couple of times as they skated up ice with speed, and Pyatt finally went back to Kelly, who chipped a backhander past Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer for a 1-0 Ottawa lead at 1:46 of the first, on the Senators' first shot on net of the game.
An Ovechkin hi-sticking minor cut short the remainder of the Washington power play, giving the Sens an abbreviated man advantage.
Seconds after the Caps killed that penalty, Grubauer made a great stop on Bobby Ryan from point blank range. But Derrick Brassard collected the rebound and went to Claesson with it. The Ottawa blueliner fired from center point, and Ryan tipped it past Grubauer at 4:10. With that Ryan goal the Sens doubled their lead, and doubled the number of goals they had scored in the first two meetings between the two teams this season.
Grubauer did his part to keep the Caps close all night, making a huge save on Ryan Dzingel early in the second period. When Washington's torrid power play got a chance to go to work a few minutes later, the Caps had a chance to halve the Sens' lead. But Ottawa's penalty killers stiffened and kept Washington at bay.
Near the middle of the second, the Caps got sloppy with their sticks, taking a pair of unnecessary stick fouls within a short span of time. Washington killed the first of those calls, but Ottawa's Zack Smith made it a 3-0 game with a redirection of Dzingel's shot, and that power-play goal sent the Caps to their largest deficit at any point in nearly two months.
Washington had four more extra-man opportunities thereafter, but was unable to catch a spark or to get anything started offensively. In Monday night's 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps were able to consistently establish a net presence and to put pressure on the Canes down low in the attack zone. They had no such success on Tuesday in Ottawa; the Sens were effective at walling off the interior, and on the occasions when Condon put a rebound in a dangerous area, his teammates were always easily the first ones to get to it.
Video: WSH Recap: Caps' point streak ends with 3-0 loss
"We had a couple of looks," says Trotz. "They didn't have a lot of chances, either. I didn't think we had a lot of juice. From my standpoint, I can tell when we have juice on the bench and when we don't. We looked like a little bit of a tired hockey team. Sometimes, it's not [the game] the night before; maybe it's the games mounting up. I'm going to put that on that, because we've had a pretty good run against some really good teams.
"[We've had] a lot of travel lately; we got home for 18 hours or whatever it was the other day from Dallas and St. Louis. We just weren't as sharp, and it showed on our bench. We weren't able to generate, and give them credit. They did some good things. But we needed something to give us a spark and we never really got that spark. They made it 2-0 [early] and we needed to make it 2-1 and I think we would have had a better chance to give us some life."
The Caps now trek on to New Jersey, where they'll face the Devils on Thursday in their 17th game in a span of 31 nights. After that, they'll enjoy a long All-Star break weekend before getting right back into the grind. The Capitals come out of the break playing back-to-back games, and seven games in a dozen nights before their bye week from Feb. 12-17.