LOS ANGELES — The Washington Capitals certainly don't love L.A., or the Randy Newman song that played Monday night whenever the Kings scored a goal. What's obvious at almost the midway point of the season is that they don't love playing on the road at all.
"Our record all year proves that we're not playing well enough on the road," coach Dale Hunter said. "When you're in another building, you're going to have to play harder."
Yet again the Caps got pushed around and dominated away from home, with this 5-2 defeat at Staples Center following a familiar and disturbing pattern of brutal turnovers, blatant mistakes and porous defensive-zone coverage.
"We had bad mistakes in the [defensive] zone, and it cost us," defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. "We just have to be more desperate and show some enthusiasm and just play a little bit harder in [defensive] zone. Today was not our best game."
That's not the way to play or win on the road. And in doing so, Washington fell to 1-6-0 at Western Conference opponents this season, with the one victory coming against the NHL basement-dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets.
This time, the Caps got a lead and the fast start they desired. Marcus Johansson's wrist shot on the rush that beat Jonathan Bernier was their first goal on the road in the first period in seven games, a drought dating to Dec. 5.
"They're responsible, and they block a lot of shots," Hunter said of the Kings earlier Monday. "They play well in their own end, and we're going to have to use our speed and create havoc that way."
Johansson's speed did just that, and the Caps held the lead for 10:07. But the Caps didn't keep up the pressure and got steamrolled by an opponent that hadn't scored multiple goals in a game yet in 2012.
A big rebound surrendered by Tomas Vokoun and the defense's inability to clear the front of the net led to a Kyle Clifford goal that tied the score.
It quickly got worse. Brooks Laich's struggles continued as Dustin Brown picked his pocket in the defensive zone. It was the kind of mistake no team can afford, but it was especially bad in the final minute of a period with the Caps needing to build momentum. Naturally, Anze Kopitar scored, with 34 seconds left in the first.
It was predictably a back-breaker.
"It always is," Hunter said. "It puts you back on your heels.
When the Caps tried to pinch on a play early in the second, the Kings again made "I Love L.A." blare from the arena's speakers with a Jack Johnson goal on a three-on-one. Johnson did the "Tebow" kneeling celebration in honor of the Denver Broncos quarterback, and it was far from the end of the party for Los Angeles.
Or the end of the Caps' misery. Defensive blunders in front of Vokoun (four goals on 27 shots before getting yanked after two) led to goals by Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams. By the time Johansson scored again, there was no celebration and no smiles from the young center.
"I don't think that we executed our game plan tonight. We ended up in the penalty box; they scored a couple power-play goals. And we just couldn't catch up," forward Matt Hendricks said. "That execution thing wasn't there tonight."
It was that kind of night for the Caps, who are 3-9-1 in their past 13 road games. The silver lining is that they play their next four at home and five of the next six against teams currently out of a playoff spot.
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