With Thursday’s 4-2 loss in San Jose, the Capitals have now suffered consecutive regulation losses for the first time in more than three months.
The defeat also dropped the Caps’ record to 5-4-1 since the team returned from the bye week.
Their average goals per game since the five-day hiatus? A pedestrian 2.2 per contest.
Indeed, it’s been an unsettling stretch for the NHL’s top team, which encountered a similar malaise late last season. But, according to Coach Barry Trotz and his players, there's no sense of panic or déjà vu spreading over the dressing room.
“We haven’t lost two in a row for a while, so it does seem a little awkward,” Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged to reporters at SAP Center. “But this group is great at responding, and we’ll have to go into L.A. and see if we can respond.”
Asked if he sees any similarities between last year’s soft stretch run and the current downturn, Trotz said: “No. I think this team is a little different. I think last year when we had such a lead, we just sorta parked it. I don’t think you can say we’re doing that. From our standpoint we’re in a race with a lot of good teams in the Metro right now. So, I don’t think that’s a concern at all.”
A year ago, the Caps went 10-4-6 in their final 20 games. This year, the Caps are 2-2-0 in the first four games of that 20-game sprint to the finish.
“It hasn’t been [like] how we went into the break,” winger Brett Connolly said. “We were humming pretty good. We’ve got a new player in [Kevin] Shattenkirk and [Andre Burakovsky] goes down. So we’re still finding our game a little bit. If you ask anybody, I don’t think we’re happy with how we’ve come out of the break. We’re looking to fix that. This is not our style. …We just gotta take a deep breath. We’re still in first place. We still have a great hockey team.”
The Caps’ three-game California trip continues Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Kings are battling for their playoff lives, sitting a point out of the second wild card spot in the West.
Washington, meantime, will be looking to avoid losing three straight games in regulation for the first time since Feb. 2015 as its captain and leading goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, searches for his first goal since Feb. 19, nine games ago.
“We don’t want to lose three in a row,” Connolly said. “L.A. is a big game. …Now we need to go into L.A. and beat a good hockey team.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner acknowledged that a few recent opponents have played with more desperation than the Caps have brought to the rink. But that said, Alzner scoffed at the suggestion that last year’s late-season swoon is happening all over again.
“No, not at all,” he said. “It’s a different team. That’s the thing that everyone always wonders. It’s just coincidence right now. We all know that we can turn it up and things will be better. This is a tough stretch of the year. These are good teams that we’re playing right now and [their] fight is a little bit more intense than our fight is right now. When it comes to time to really show our true colors, I think we’re going to show them.”
MORE CAPITALS: Prospect report: Caps boast 4 of NHL's top 100 prospects