The first game full of errors, poor defensive coverage and careless penalties could easily be shrugged off as growing pains for a team with a new coach and new system. Maybe even the second, too.

But as the Washington Capitals foundered for a third straight game, stricken with a familiar brand of self-inflicted calamity, the question became not when they would put everything together but if.


Undone once more by a plethora of untimely penalties, inept special teams play and a downright lack of cohesion, the Capitals lost, 4-1, to the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Thursday night, dropping to 0-3 on the year.

Washington is the only team in the Eastern Conference without a point and is winless in its first three games for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Through three games, the Capitals have been outscored 14-6, led for only 2:32 (all against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday), are 2-for-12 on the power play (16.6percent) and have been successful only 11 of 18 times (61.1 percent) on the penalty kill.

"I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort. It's very upsetting. Not pushing the panic button, but obviously it's upsetting," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "I'm not a believer in the Knute Rockne speech. I'm not. We're pros. You got to be a pro and you got to do your job. It's not always gonna go your way. And you gotta show up for work."

For the third consecutive game, the Capitals' top players looked like shadows of themselves. Oates tried three different wings alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom during the night but none sparked any more life in the top line than the one before.

"I think it's embarrassing the way we played," Backstrom said. "We've really got to regroup and talk about this and play the way we should."

The Capitals played perhaps their strongest period of the young season in the first against Montreal, but the start of the second brought derailment in the form of penalties.

Ovechkin was whistled for interference less than two minutes in, and while on the penalty kill, Troy Brouwer shot the puck over the glass, earning a delay-of-game call and handing Montreal a two-man advantage for 1:35. Tomas Plekanec scored with four seconds left in the 5-on-3 to make it 1-0.

Thwarting the remaining time proved of little use because the moment Washington returned to even strength, Matt Hendricks went off for goaltender interference. Andrei Markov needed just 12 seconds of that power play to make it 2-0 and send the Capitals reeling.

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