RALEIGH, N.C. — Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer dropped the gloves and tried to go down fighting. Too bad the rest of the Washington Capitals went down without a fight well before that.
Or barely showed up.
On Monday night in yet another crucial game, the Caps lacked just about any element that could lead to road success. It was an empty effort that led to a humiliating 5-0 loss at RBC Center to the last-place Carolina Hurricanes.
"Embarrassing effort, right from the start," a steaming Brouwer said. "We weren't ready to play, gave up chances, gave the puck away, didn't get the puck in deep. Just all-around embarrassing."
It was the kind of game that ordinarily gets coaches fired, similar to performances at the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs in November that ultimately cost Bruce Boudreau his job. It was the most lopsided defeat of Dale Hunter's tenure.
"I think it was pretty bad play by our team," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "We didn't get any shots on net, we didn't get any puck deep. We don't cycle it, and we don't play our game."
The Caps knew going in, just as they've known for a while, the importance of getting the first goal. Not only did the Caps not score first, but they allowed two Hurricanes goals in the first 5:09, the first a result of a big rebound and the second the result of a turnover by Marcus Johansson.
Seven shots, two goals and goaltender Tomas Vokoun's night was swiftly over.
Hunter hoped the switch would "change momentum" and provide a spark. It wasn't there.
"Just the game itself should've led to a spark," forward Jeff Halpern said. "But it wasn't Tomas, the whole team was just bad."
But the Caps' rough night was just getting under way. They fell behind 3-0 by the end of the first and were getting outskated and outworked by a team with nothing to play for.
Every game has so much value for Washington now, amid a chase for a playoff spot and a Southeast Division title. There are still 23 games left, but the Caps team that took the ice Monday night doesn't look like one that belongs in a tournament for the Stanley Cup.
Monday night's showing was certainly troubling, not just because of one night's result but because of the recent trend of losing.
"We're not in a playoff spot. Of course there's concern," Halpern said. "We still have confidence, but of course there's concern.
This group fell to 10-17-3 on the road with their second straight shutout loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh. They failed to make up ground on the first-place Florida Panthers, who have lost three straight.
Florida's struggles and the inability for the Toronto Maple Leafs to put much of a run together seems to logically mean the Caps just need to play adequate hockey to make the playoffs. Monday was far from that.
"We keep getting breaks and other teams are helping us. Florida loses yesterday and Toronto loses the night before in Vancouver," right wing Mike Knuble said. "You watch the standings, and it's like nobody wants it. And that's what's frustrating. Because it's right there for us, and it's in our control, and somebody's got to take it."
By the third period, Ovechkin could barely watch, his head down while sitting on the bench. His head rested on the boards as the time ticked away toward another devastating loss.
He didn't want to share much what was going through his mind at the time.
"Nothing. I was just like very mad about myself," Ovechkin said. "That's all I can say."
Hard to say much else after a loss like this — one the Caps hope to distance themselves from quickly.
"It's very, very disappointing for our group. That being said, you can't feel sorry," Knuble said. "It was another game, and we're still in the thick of things and have a chance to have a .500 trip with a win in Ottawa. I think you want to, it's hard to say move on. Forget move on, but the next task is a big game and hopefully a big win in Ottawa."
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