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Capitals say adversity will make them stronger

Lost California trip, struggles of Alex Ovechkin have Washington seeking answers

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- The drama missing for most of last season has found the Washington Capitals this season.

The quest of goaltender Braden Holtby to surpass Martin Brodeur's single-season record for wins was virtually the only suspense endured by the Capitals in 2015-16. Holtby ended up tying Brodeur's record of 48 wins.

Most team goals for the Capitals were checked off with plenty of time remaining in that regular season. The Metropolitan Division title and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference were clinched on March 23.

Legitimate adversity was hard to find then, at least until the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There, the Capitals lost in the Eastern Conference Second Round, a six-game defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Five of the six games were decided by one goal; three went to overtime.

Video: WSH@ANA: Holtby makes a trio of saves early in 1st

Now, late in the 2016-17 season, adversity is around nearly every corner for the League-leading Capitals. The Anaheim Ducks defeated them 5-2 at Honda Center on Sunday. 

The Capitals have lost four consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2014.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has pulled within a point of the Capitals in the division. The Penguins, who play the surging Calgary Flames on Monday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, ROOT, NHL.TV), have a game in hand on the Capitals.

Hello, adversity.

"Adversity is a great teacher," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "You find out a lot about the guy next to you, find out a lot about the group. We haven't had a lot in the last couple years.

"This group has been very good. You have to go through things to be better and this is going to make us better. It's not going to make us worse."

Holtby expanded upon that theme.

"Adversity is a good thing if you use it the right way," he said. "If we're good enough to be a championship team, we will get through this. We'll push through and be better. But that's something we have to do. It's not just because there is adversity, we're going to get better. We have to do it. We have to use it to our advantage."

Video: WSH@NYR: Ovechkin nets PPG from left circle

The struggles are particularly profound for captain Alex Ovechkin, who has not scored in 10 games. He does not have an even-strength goal in 18 games. Each drought is the longest of his NHL career.

Better to struggle now rather than later, reasoned Ovechkin, who has 27 goals. He has averaged 51 goals a season for each of the past three seasons. His last goal this season was against the New York Rangers on Feb. 19. His last even-strength goal was against the New York Islanders on Jan. 31.

"We don't remember when we lost four in a row, and that's a good thing," Ovechkin said. "It's nice it's happened right now, before the playoffs than during playoffs."

He said the drought is frustrating.

"Just maybe wait [for] something happen … a miracle or something," Ovechkin said. "You just have to work hard and fight through it."

How is he managing the frustration of the longest goal-scoring drought of his NHL career?

"I'm not a rookie anymore," Ovechkin said. "I don't think about that I have to score every game."

The Capitals have been inconsistent since coming out of their break, which was Feb. 12 to Feb. 16. They are 5-6-1 since returning against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 18, scoring two or fewer goals in 10 of the 12 games.

There have been more speed bumps since acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, days before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline. 

Shattenkirk's assimilation was put on hold Sunday; he was suspended for two games for charging Los Angeles Kings defenseman Kevin Gravel during a 4-2 loss Saturday.

Video: Shattenkirk suspended two games for charging

They went zero for California, outscored 13-6 in losses to the San Jose Sharks, Kings and Ducks. 

Said Trotz: "We didn't have a very friendly California trip."

It's no surprise the dressing-room door stayed closed a little longer than usual after the loss to the Ducks.

"I truly believe if that you get slapped in the face a lot throughout the year, you can pout about it, or get over it and get better," defenseman John Carlson said.

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