Most of the Washington Capitals didn't hear about their captain being traded away until they reached Verizon Center for Monday night's game against the last-place Carolina Hurricanes.
Once they took the ice, they played exactly like a team that had their heart ripped out, as they played sloppy, mistake-filled hockey for much of the first half of the game.
Carolina (10-22-7) scored the first three goals of the game en route to a convincing 6-3 win over the current NHL points leader.
Eric Staal had two goals and three assists to lead the worst team in the league to just their second road win of the season—their 10th overall.
The Capitals traded captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for forward Jason Chimera.
The move surprised not just those left behind, but Clark himself. I'm shocked," Clark told the Washington Post . "But then you start looking to the team where you're going. So now I'm trying to put all my energy into who's on the team, how they're doing and where I'll be playing my next game."
Washington (24-9-6) played terribly flat early,and managed only four shots on goal in the first period. Additionally, Nicklas Backstrom took a four-minute high-stick, followed by Mike Green's hooking call, which resulted in a five-on-three for Carolina.
The Caps, including Karl Alzner, played tremendously trying to kill the five-on-three, but seconds before it would expire, Tuomo Ruutu banged home a rebound of a Staal shot to break the ice. Staal made it 2-0 less than three minutes later knocking a puck out of the air—baseball style—past a dazed Jose Theodore.
Jussi Jokinen beat Theodore three minutes later, and the onslaught was on.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau did not want to use the trade as an excuse for the poor play, but it was was obvious the Caps were not on their game, after handling top-of-their division New Jersey and Buffalo their previous games.
"But I've been in that situation, and it can bother some people. I don't know if it did with our guys, even if it was a two great guys who were leaving," he said. "I don't know if [the trade] did or it didn't [bother the players], usually we're a lot better in the first period."
Goalie Theodore had a rough night. In his first start since Dec. 18 he gave up five goals on 26 shots, and several of the goals came on rebounds. He made a couple of good saves in the opening minutes, but after the two early goals he looked like he lost focus, and ultimately control of the game.
"I thought he fought the puck a little bit at the end," Boudreau siad. "Once the first two goals went by him, I thought his confidence [lacked]. But at no time was I thinking about pulling him."
This, after an episode at practice at the end of last week where Theodore broke a stick and said, "I just work here" when responding to Michel Neuvirth receiving three straight starts.
The Caps got power play goals from Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, and a fluky goal from Eric Fehr, where a Hurricane defensemen tried to play the puck with his hand and basically threw the puck past goalie Cam Ward (28 saves).
The loss is the first to a Southeast Division foe this season, putting the Caps' mark in the division at 8-1-0.
After the game, Washington loaded up to head out West, where they face San Jose on Wednesday night. They expect newly-acquired Chimera to accompany the team on the road trip.
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