Knowing where Alexander Ovechkin will be when the Capitals are on the power play is simple: Just look toward the left circle. Neutralizing him when Washington has a man advantage, or at any other time, is much more complicated.
The Ducks found it nearly impossible Sunday while being lured into recklessly trading chances instead of being physical and disciplined defensively. They paid for it with a 5-3 loss at Honda Center in which Ovechkin took the NHL lead with his 35th and 36th goals, in addition to setting up Andre Burakovsky twice.
"I don't think it's a secret the way to beat them is below the circles," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, his face red with anger, said after his team lost for the third time in its last four games.
"Once you stop finishing checks they got the mobility to move the puck and we couldn't stop them. We should have been able to take, for sure, a sample out of what L.A. did," he added, referring to the Kings' 3-1 victory over Washington on Saturday. "All they did was finish checks, finish checks, finish checks and wear them down. That was what we were supposed to do but evidently the game plan didn't work."
The Ducks still hold an 11-point lead atop the Pacific Division, but their performance Sunday continued a sloppy trend: they have given up at least five goals three times in their last four games and they get drawn into a risky run-and-gun style too easily.
"There's always a little bit of concern. We're not happy with how we're playing. We're not in the right state of mind right now," said winger Andrew Cogliano, who scored the Ducks' first and third goals. "We're losing games by just giving teams easy chances. We've got to get back to what we were doing before, when we were playing tight defense and creating offense from there."
Here are more reasons for concern: defenseman Sami Vatanen suffered what the team called a lower-body injury during the first period and didn't return. Left wing Matt Beleskey, their second-most productive goal scorer with 21, suffered an apparent arm or shoulder injury in the first period and also didn't return. Boudreau said he expected to know more about their status Monday.
If they're out, Boudreau said he hopes other players take it as a challenge.
"Every player wants more ice time. It's an opportunity for them to go instead of sit there and say, 'Woe is me,' " he said. "I think right now we're in a 'Woe is me' mood all the time."
After a moment of silence for former Duck Steve Montador, who died Sunday of what authorities called natural causes, the Ducks and Capitals played an entertaining first period.
Cogliano converted the rebound of a shot by Francois Beauchemin at 1:06, and the Capitals responded 16 seconds later. Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Getzlaf on a faceoff and got the puck to Ovechkin, who stopped it with his foot before rifling it past goaltender John Gibson. Corey Perry regained the lead for the Ducks at 5:33 with a wrist shot from the slot, but Ovechkin tied it, 2-2, when he scored a power-play goal from the left circle at 10:26.
The brisk pace carried into the second period. Marcus Johansson gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead off a slick setup from Matt Niskanen, and Andre Burakovsky increased it to 4-2 at 9:04 on a pass from Ovechkin. The Ducks made it 4-3 at 12:13, when Cogliano converted a rebound, but Ovechkin initiated a two-on-one with Burakovsky, who scored at 9:42 of the third period.
Knowing where Ovechkin would be didn't help the Ducks, or win Getzlaf's admiration.
"I didn't know he was going to dive the way he did tonight, all over the … ice. That part of it is a little embarrassing," Getzlaf said. "Pardon my language. He's a great player. He's going to score goals and make plays. That other stuff's embarrassing."
Getzlaf said he meant "the slash on me, the slash on his hand, the one where I ran into him and he dove down. It's embarrassing to the game."
No matter what Ovechkin did or didn't do, what the Ducks aren't doing should concern them more.