If the Washington Capitals' meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night truly represented a measuring stick of their progress under coach Dale Hunter, as players billed it in the hours leading up to the game, then they came up far short.
Washington fell, 5-1, at Verizon Center in a game in which its offense fell dormant for stretches, the defensive zone coverage eroded and the goaltending allowed soft goals.
The Capitals are 3-4 under Hunter and have lost six of their past nine. Conversely, the Flyers squad that sent a firm reminder of the work that remains for Washington stands atop the Eastern Conference, has won six straight and eight of its past nine outings.
"You want to keep moving forward as a group and tonight was sort of a half-step back," right wing Mike Knuble said. "It just shows we've got a little bit of work to do and shows guys in here that we still have some work to do and things to tighten up. … It's a good little reality check. You think you're making some progress and then say, well maybe we've got some more work to do."
Washington won two straight before facing the Flyers and believed it had started to find a rhythm in Hunter's system. But against disciplined Philadelphia, which was without captain Chris Pronger and the NHL's leading scorer, Claude Giroux, nothing went as planned.
Tomas Vokoun was pulled after allowing four goals on 21 shots in the first two periods, including a pair of markers that the 35-year-old Czech netminder would like to have back. The Flyers' three other goals all came off deflections, but those were the products of extended offensive zone time as Washington struggled to stem the visitors' cycle.
The Capitals were off to a decent start, but with less than four minutes remaining in the first period, Scott Hartnell skated down the left wing and fired a shot through Vokoun's legs for a 1-0 Flyers lead. It was a deflating tally that the veteran goaltender called a "bad" goal.
"It was terrible performance. Certainly not pleasant and it's unfortunate in a game like that there's not really much to say. It was a bad performance by me," Vokoun said. "Obviously you don't like to give up goal like that."
Treading water in their own end and chasing the Flyers' cycle game corresponded with a drought of 9:48 without a shot in the middle of the second period. Although the Capitals would wind up being outshot only 33-32 at game's end, they mustered only nine shots on Ilya Bryzgalov (31 saves) through the first half of the contest.
"Every time the puck crossed our blue line it ended up in our end for 30 seconds at a time," said Jeff Halpern, who scored Washington's lone goal. "We didn't work hard to get the spots and we never came out with the puck clean out of our own end. It was like D-zone coverage practice, and we weren't very good at it."
Notes: Mike Green missed a 15th consecutive game with a strained right groin muscle. He was sent to visit a specialist this week. … Matt Hendricks missed a third straight outing with a right knee injury.