The Pittsburgh Penguins completed a home-and-home series sweep of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in a 2-0 victory, further damaging Washington's rapidly fading playoff hopes.
With 15 games remaining, the Capitals, winless in five of their past six games (1-4-1), find themselves trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers by three points in the Metropolitan Division and wild-card race, respectively, with each team holding two games in hand.
In order to extend their season, the Capitals will have to find some success on the road, which has been unkind to them throughout the season. Only three teams have won fewer road games than Washington's 12: the Edmonton Oilers (11), Calgary Flames (11) and Buffalo Sabres (seven), all among the worst teams in the league.
Including their 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 6, the Capitals have been shut out in consecutive road games for the first time since Nov. 19-22, 2010. They have been held scoreless away from Verizon Center for 126 consecutive minutes, and since forward Eric Fehr scored on a third-period breakaway in Boston on March 1, they have gone 189:07 without a 5-on-5 goal.
The problem lies in how the Capitals have started their past three road games; Washington has been outscored 7-1 and outshot 76-28 in the first and second periods combined.
“I think maybe we just was a little bit tired, maybe we was a little sleepy but the situation is we were just not ready for the first period,” forward Alex Ovechkin told reporters following another slow start against the Penguins. “It’s hard. The team feel great, we have good mood but soon as they drop the puck we kind of was shocked. They put pressure on our D and we didn’t handle it, we make mistake and they score.”
Eight of Washington's final 15 games are on the road, and the next three may hammer the first nails into its proverbial coffin. On Sunday, the Capitals will embark on a weeklong road swing through California to face the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
The Ducks and Sharks are two of the three best home teams in the NHL, not to mention two of the top four teams in the league overall. The Capitals have dropped 17 of their past 18 games against the Sharks dating to the 1999-00 season and have not won in San Jose since Oct. 30, 1993. The Kings are the league's hottest team, having won eight straight.
So far, 14 teams have traveled to California to face the Ducks, Sharks and Kings in succession, and only three teams have left with at least four of a possible six points.
Barring an eleventh-hour turnaround of miraculous proportions, Washington's streak of six consecutive postseason appearances, the fourth-longest active streak in the NHL, will come to an end within the next few weeks.
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