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After consecutive regulation losses, Capitals face questions about last season's swoon

After consecutive regulation losses, Capitals face questions about last season's swoon

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

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Caps at Islanders: Ovechkin is in for final game before bye week

Caps at Islanders: Ovechkin is in for final game before bye week

The Capitals (32-11-5) head to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders (28-14-4) in the last game before the bye week. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all the action! Pregame coverage starts at 12 p.m. with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live bringing you up to the 1 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Saturday's game.

Ovechkin is in

By skipping the All-Star Game, Alex Ovechkin is subject to a one-game suspension. He must serve that suspension in either the last game before the bye week or the first game back. Todd Reirden said following Thursday's game that Ovechkin will play on Saturday meaning he will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens. This should come as no surprise considering the Islanders game is a division game and the Montreal game is not.

Here are the lines based on Friday's practice:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Ovechkin is red-hot

It is a good thing Ovechkin is playing Saturday because he is red-hot right now. He has five goals in just the past two games and sits one behind Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in goals.

Holtby starts

Ilya Samsonov started the last two games and played well, but with the bye week upcoming, Reirden felt it important to get Braden Holtby back in. He confirmed Friday that Holtby will be the starter.

Holtby has not registered a save percentage above .900 in six straight starts and he sits at .899 for the season. He has still managed a 18-9-4 record for the season, however. Reirden said the last two games for Samsonov allowed Holtby the chance to "reset." HIs last game was on Jan. 11 against the New Jersey Devils.

When last we met

With Holtby in net, he will have a chance to rebound after this last start against the Islanders, a tough 4-3 loss at home on New Year's Eve. He allowed four goals on 22 shots in that game.

It was a very sloppy affair, not what we are used to seeing from the typically buttoned-up Islanders defense and turnovers were a problem for both sides. Semyon Varlamov closed the door in the period, stopping a whopping 17 shots as Washington poured it on looking to tie it.

Here's a recap of the game.

Washington is 1-1-0 against the Islanders this season with the final matchup coming on Feb. 10.

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Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne believes Alex Ovechkin will catch Wayne Gretzky

Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne believes Alex Ovechkin will catch Wayne Gretzky

During the Caps big win over the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night, Alex Ovechkin passed Finnish great Teemu Selanne on the all-time goal list, bringing him to 11th overall. He currently stands at 689 goals and his next target on the list is Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux at 690.

With Ovechkin closing in on yet another goal-scorer, Selanne took to Twitter to say that he believes Ovechkin will be the one to pass Wayne Gretzky's mark of 894 goals.

Selanne isn't the only one who believes the Great Eight can catch up to the Great One. Nicklas Backstrom thinks his captain can do it, Sidney Crosby agrees with that assessment,  and the Great One himself said that Ovi has elevated the way the game has been played with his goal-scoring pursuit.

Ovi's take on it all? That if he's able to complete the feat he'll retire immediately. Ovi needs 205 more goals to reach that mark.

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