The Washington Capitals are on the verge of clinching the Metropolitan Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but their latest effort proved they're hardly a polished product and still have some issues on the road.
Looking to bounce back from one of their worst defeats of 2015-16, the Capitals can avoid a fourth straight road loss by sweeping the season series from the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
Washington (51-15-5) had a chance to nail down the division with a third straight victory Sunday, but instead yielded its highest goal total of the season in a 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh. Though the defeat was ugly and gave the Capitals their longest road slide of 2015-16, perhaps most concerning within the dressing room was the timing of the performance.
"You can talk all you want about how many points you've accumulated during the regular season, but once you get to the playoffs, that's all out the window," defenseman Brooks Orpik told the team's official website. "We better start playing a little bit better."
Washington allowed the first two goals before tying it in the second. However, Braden Holtby yielded five goals on 26 shots before he was pulled. He had given up one goal in two straight and three of his previous four starts.
Though the Capitals killed six of seven penalties against the Penguins, they've allowed 15 goals during the 0-2-1 road skid.
"We got exactly what we deserved," coach Barry Trotz said. "I'm not going to file it. I'm not going to let guys off the hook. There's no excuse for the sloppy play, the lack of execution when the heat was on."
In the midst of a 4-0-1 stretch against Ottawa (34-31-8), the Capitals appear to have a good opportunity to get back on track by sweeping this season series for the first time since 2007-08. Holtby and backup Philipp Grubauer have combined to stop 58 of 60 shots in two meetings this season.
Alex Ovechkin has two of his league-leading 42 goals in the last 11 games, but scored twice in a 7-1 home rout of the Senators on Jan. 10. Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera each had three assists.
Ottawa has totaled eight goals in the last five against Washington, but has scored 13 times to win three of its past four games overall. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Curtis Lazar and Alex Chiasson recorded short-handed goals in Saturday's 5-0 victory over Montreal.
The Senators rank 29th in the NHL in penalty killing at 75.4 percent, but lead the league with 15 short-handed goals. Pageau's six short-handed scores are also the most in the NHL.
"Any time you get one short-handed goal, you look at it as a bonus," coach Dave Cameron told the league's official website. "To get three is kind of the exception."
Seven points out of the final wild-card spot and needing to pass four teams to capture it, Ottawa has actually been better of late with the disadvantage by killing 17 of 18 penalties in six games.
"Regardless of where we are in the standings right now, I think we're a high-character group," said Andrew Hammond, who made 30 saves Saturday.
Hammond allowed all nine goals on 61 shots in the last two against Washington.