WASHINGTON - Put it away.
Honestly, what else can the Capitals say after a 5-2 loss to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at Capital One Arena.
They had won six games in a row. They had just swept a four-game road trip to Detroit and the three California teams (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim). Things were going great. That's always dangerous in the NHL.
Use any excuse you want - a trap game before playing the powerhouse Bruins visit in two days, a letdown coming home for the first time since Nov. 29, a sleepy Monday night crowd in early December - but the Capitals were having none of it.
"Even if you had a winning streak like this, I think it's important - when you lose, there's no easy games in this league, that's for sure,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You’ve just got to bounce back right away. We have a good test on Wednesday against Boston. I think, right?"
Forgive Backstrom if he wasn’t quite certain that a showdown loomed with the Bruins, who have the second-most points in the NHL behind Washington (22-5-5). It’s a tough time of year for players and the calendar gets away from them.
But after eight games out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, Backstrom was just happy to be back on the ice. He even scored a goal late in the third period to cut the Columbus lead to 4-2 before an empty-netter put things away.
Up in Ottawa, the Bruins (20-5-6) were also losing a game you wouldn’t expect: 5-2 to Ottawa. Combine the Blue Jackets and Senators have just 55 points. That’s barely more than Washington (49) and Boston (46) on their own, but in the NHL there’s too much parity to take any game for granted.
“You've got to be on top of your game or you're susceptible to ending up on the wrong end of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ve been really consistent, obviously, through 30-plus games of doing that. Tonight, we weren't. Had a bad start to the game. It cost us.”
Consider it a humbling lesson. Just like when the New York Islanders won a game at Tampa Bay on Monday night and the lead in the Metropolitan Division is seven points for the Capitals. No reason to panic, no reason to do anything other than start a new streak against a top-level opponent on Wednesday that should give both Washington and Boston a good sense of where their game is.
Take the good and toss the bad: Backstrom is back and scored. The penalty kill, with Lars Eller playing a bigger role, was solid again at 5-for-5 and the third line of Eller. Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik played as a unit for the first time since early October.
Braden Holtby (33 saves, 37 shots) had a great first period in goal, but gave up an ugly bad-angle shot in the third to Riley Nash just a few minutes after Alex Ovechkin had cut the lead to 2-1 in the first minute of the third period with his 21st goal. But Columbus scored three times in the third - once on an empty net. A game Washington was chasing almost the entire way turned into a deserved Blue Jackets win. Things have gone so well so far in 2019-20. Time to flush it fast. The Bruins await.
“We were lucky it was only a 1-0 game because of the way [Holtby] played,” Hagelin said. “We started getting better and better as the game went on, but it wasn’t enough. That’s one of those games where you have to forget about it and move on.”
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