The Washington Capitals have battled through losing streaks this season, but their current season-high five-game skid is more onerous.
The Capitals lost, 4-1, to the New York Rangers Jan. 19, two nights after losing, 5-1, at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The three games prior were hard-fought affairs, ending in two shootout defeats and a 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh. But against the Rangers and Blue Jackets, the Caps were blown away early.
Philipp Grubauer, one of three goalies on the Washington roster, was pulled from both games. He had become head coach Adam Oates' first choice, but the Capitals announced at practice Jan. 20 that they were reassigning Grubauer to AHL Hershey.
Oates said Grubauer had played well, but the recent losses had forced the team's hand.
"We lost that spark, in a sense," Oates said.
After 49 games, the Capitals (22-19-8) are struggling to find an identity and sinking in the Metropolitan Division standings. They ended the weekend in fifth place after spending most of the season in second place behind the division-leading Penguins.
The Capitals have lost nine of their past 11 games.
Capitals brass historically doesn't make coaching changes this late during a season. Bruce Boudreau was fired Nov. 28, 2011. Glen Hanlon was relieved of his duties Nov. 22, 2007. Bruce Cassidy made it to Dec. 10, 2003, during his second season.
The Caps will host the Ottawa Senators Jan. 21 and close out the month with a five-game road trip.
Rangers forward Rick Nash gave his team a 1-0 lead 1:10 into the game when he stole a pass from Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov in the Caps' defensive zone and beat Grubauer with a backhander.
Then, bad penalties hurt the Capitals. Forward Martin Erat was whistled for the first of his three penalties during the game. His first hooking call, followed by defenseman Karl Alzner's hooking, gave the Rangers a five-on-three late during the first period.
Nash, below the right circle, looked off Grubauer and snapped a wrist shot five-hole to give New York a 2-0 lead. Still with the man advantage, New York center Derek Stepan put a long wrist shot through traffic just as Alzner came out of the box. The puck beat Grubauer glove side for a 3-0 Rangers lead with 2:11 remaining during the first.
Washington netminder Braden Holtby then replaced Grubauer.
The Caps showed a sign of life on a power play early during the second period, when captain Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 35th goal.
But less than 90 seconds later, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan tapped home a rebound for a shorthanded goal and a 4-1 lead. Callahan had outraced Orlov down the ice to be in position for the rebound.
Erat's second penalty, an interference call, negated a goal by Washington defenseman Mike Green halfway through the second period. Erat shoved Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist as Green snapped a wrist shot into the top right corner of the net.
Erat, who has no goals and 16 assists during 41 games this season, has a long-standing trade demand on the table. But his trade value is limited. He's making $3.75 million this season and will be owed $2.25 million next year.
The Caps traded a top prospect, center Filip Forsberg, to acquire Erat from the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline last season. Center Michael Latta also came as part of that trade.
Erat picked up his third minor penalty with a slashing call after Rangers forward Brian Boyle fell and sat on the puck, and then Erat poked his stick into Boyle's groin in search of the puck. The Caps killed off the penalty.
Holtby made 17 saves against the Rangers. Grubauer made five saves on eight shots.
Against the Blue Jackets, Grubauer was yanked early during the second period after he allowed three goals on 14 shots. Holtby came on and stopped 20 of 22 shots.
Penalties again hurt the Caps, who allowed two power-play goals. Washington defenseman John Carlson scored during the second period to make the score 3-1, but Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu's power play goal early during the third restored Columbus' three-goal lead. About three minutes later, forward Cam Atkinson scored his second goal of the game.
It was Columbus' fifth consecutive victory. After the game, Oates told reporters that his players had been mentally unprepared to play.
"Three goalies is not a good situation," Oates said at practice Jan. 20. "It's a little dysfunctional for everybody."