WASHINGTON -- In losing six of seven games prior to playing the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, the Washington Capitals felt like they received a wake-up call. Bad habits they previously were able to overcome began costing them games and points.
Against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals played arguably their most complete game of the season in a 4-0 victory at Verizon Center.
"I think we were getting away with things before that, and that losing streak proved that we can't get away from the style of game we want to play," said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 27 saves in his career-high 24th win.
"The way we were playing wasn't our identity. We weren't making the other teams really earn the wins as much as they should have been."
Forward Troy Brouwer, playing in his 500th NHL game, scored twice for Washington (26-15-10). Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr scored, and Holtby's shutout was his sixth of the season, tying Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the League lead.
Jonathan Quick made 23 saves for the Kings (21-17-12). Los Angeles lost for the eighth time in its past nine road games (1-6-2) and 17th time in 22 overall (5-11-6).
"It's certainly not the effort we were looking for, not the game we were looking for," Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. "We all know and realize how important these games are now for us because we're not standing good in the standings. We've got to figure this thing out in a hurry."
Throughout the game, the Kings' breakouts were often disorganized and snuffed in the neutral zone. Quick kept the game scoreless until 17:11 of the first period when Brouwer scored his 14th goal of the season. He slipped into a soft spot in the slot and beat Quick with a wrist shot, set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov's backhand pass from below the goal line.
"I was saying that we were getting a lot of production from [Alex Ovechkin] and [Backstrom] and we needed some more from some of the other lines," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who reconfigured his forwards. "When we were going really good earlier in the year, we were getting contributions every night from different lines and there wasn't a real pattern, just that there was multiple lines contributing. I thought tonight was more of that type of effort where we could have gotten a goal from every line tonight."
The second period played out similarly to the first, with Los Angeles struggling to gain traction offensively. The Kings' best scoring chance came with 4:19 remaining on a 2-on-1 rush involving Dwight King and Jeff Carter, but Holtby saved Carter's wrist shot with his glove.
"We've got to keep pushing forward," Capitals defenseman Mike Green said. "We talk about not letting teams catch us, but we've got to make sure we're trying to catch other teams. When we get that first goal, I think we've had the first goal in a lot of games lately and we've kind of sat back. Tonight I thought we kept pushing and kept pushing and played a 60-minute game that didn't give them much. I'll have to say, [Holtby] played outstanding and made the big saves when necessary. That's the difference in the game too."
Brouwer scored again at 16:36 of the second, this time on the power play when he deflected Green's point shot past Quick.
"It's going to be a memorable game for me, for sure," Brouwer said. "To be able to have a good win against the defending Stanley Cup champions and to be able to take control of the game from the beginning and take it right to the end, we thought we played a real complete game, you know? Smiles all around, which is what I'll remember about my 500th game."
Los Angeles turnovers created consecutive Washington third-period goals within 59 seconds.
Backstrom completed a tic-tac-toe sequence with a wrist shot into an open net at 5:50 after pressuring Quick and Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr behind the net.
Fehr drove hard toward Quick and roofed a backhand over him at 6:49.
"We made two mistakes in the third, turned the puck over on both those goals, but 2-0 I would say is a tough task in this building," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "The first goal is a bad change by a veteran player (Dustin Brown), and the second goal is a bad penalty by a veteran player (Jarret Stoll, tripping)."
Washington's win, coupled with the New York Islanders' 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, moved the Capitals within three points of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
"We go over details and structure and order every day," Green said. "It's just a matter of us sort of focusing on it. When we execute that game plan, we're pretty successful. It's just a matter of being consistent in that sense, especially against a team like L.A., obviously defending champs, we're up for the challenge, and I thought the guys played really well tonight."