The Washington Capitals have gone from a 14-game winning streak to a two-game losing streak and their coach isn't at all happy about the way it's happened.
For the second time in two nights, the Caps played racehorse hockey and came up a goal short. Chris Phillips and Alex Kovalev scored in the third period and the Ottawa Senators hung on for a 6-5 victory over the Caps on Thursday night , and Jason Spezza had a goal and two assists in the first in the Ottawa Senators' 6-5 victory over the Capitals on Thursday night.
As they did in Wednesday's 6-5 OT loss at Montreal, the Caps got a hat trick -- this one by Alexander Semin -- but lost because they couldn't keep the puck out of their net. Ottawa scored six times on just 28 shots against a shaky Semyon Varlamov, who was making his first appearance since going down with a groin injury on Dec. 7.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't buying any excuses about his goaltender or his team.
"It was an ugly display," Boudreau said. "I thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You're not going to win when you give up six goals and maybe five of them are bad ones and our 'D' can't make a play. It's awful."
"I don't think he was ready to play," he said of Varlamov. "I don't know if it was slow, rusty or a combination of both. You can use whatever term you want -- I don't think he was ready to play. He knew he was going to play. He's had 12 days of practice and a game under his belt. It's his responsibility to be ready.
"When you say he's rusty or whatever; that's an excuse, and excuses can't be tolerated. One goal went right through the legs -- he's been making that save since he was seven years old."
Brian Elliott wasn't a whole lot better -- he stopped only 19 of 24 shots -- but that was enough to give the Senators their 13th win in 14 games.
"I didn't have my best game and obviously with shooters like that, if you give them some empty space they're going to find the back of the net," said Elliott, who has started Ottawa's last 12 games and won 11 of them. "We just did a good job of putting pucks in the back of their net."
Ottawa moved into the Northeast Division lead with 74 points, one ahead of Buffalo, which lost 4-3 in overtime at Carolina.
"It was a great test for us," Phillips said. "We played one of the top teams in the game right now and we stuck with them. We didn't get intimidated by their offensive ability. They obviously showed it again tonight and we didn't get down, we battled back and that's what's so great about this team right now."
Kovalev assisted on Phillips' seventh goal 2:23 into the third period to break a 4-4 tie, then scored a power-play goal at 7:36. That one turned out to be the game-winner when Semin completed his hat trick by scoring an unassisted goal with 6:23 remaining.
The five goals his team scored meant nothing to Boudreau, who was more concerned about his team's recent inability to stop anyone.
"The giveaways by our defense were, for me, more horrible than the goaltending -- and I didn't think the goaltending was good."
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said fatigue may have played a role, but didn't absolve himself from blame for the plethora of mistakes.
"We played back to back so a couple of guys are tired so we made a couple of mistakes, especially me," said Ovechkin, who extended his points streak to nine games with an assist on Jeff Schultz's second-period goal that made it 3-2.
The Senators got the sellout crowd of 19,682 into the game early, taking a 3-1 lead after one period. Spezza opened the scoring with his 11th goal in his last 11 games at 6:03. Milan Michalek, who assisted on Kovalev's power-play goal in the third, scored his 20th to put the Senators up 2-0 at 10:09. After Tomas Fleischmann drew Washington to 2-1 with his 18th of the season, Daniel Alfredsson restored Ottawa's two-goal lead when he put a shot from the right side past Varlamov for his 17th goal on a power play at 19:53. Spezza assisted on the goals by Michalek and Alfredsson for a three-point period.
Schultz got the Caps within a goal when his point shot beat Elliott at 6:53 of the second period. Semin then took over, sizzling a pair of wrist shots past Elliott for goals 42 seconds apart to put the Caps ahead 4-3 with 4:01 remaining in the period.
But Chris Neil jammed the puck past Varlamov with 1:56 left in the period to get the Senators even at 4-4.
The Caps have allowed 16 goals in their last three games and 23 in their last five -- though they're 3-1-1 in that span. Boudreau said he's been trying to tell his team that they've got to tighten up.
"It's been creeping in for about seven games now," he said of his team's poor defensive play. "I've been telling them about the bad habits. The (Olympic) break can't come soon enough for me -- where we can get five or six good days of practice and get back on track.
"We'll get back to normal. What you're seeing now isn't normal. Whether we're scoring goals or whatever -- their goalie wasn't any good either. But they got more shots, and they scored the extra goal."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report