Less than a week ago the Capitals looked like a team on the verge of hitting .500 and climbing back into the Southeast Division playoff hunt.

On Tuesday night they looked like a team unsure how all the momentum from winning eight of 11 games could slip away with three straight losses.

Playing with three rookie defensemen, the Capitals got behind early against the Carolina Hurricanes and could not solve third-string goalie Justin Peters in an alarming 4-0 defeat at Verizon Center.

The loss dropped the Capitals 10 points behind the Southeast Division leaders, further threatening their hopes to make a run for the eighth and final playoff spot.

After the game, Capitals coach Adam Oates and his players had very different perspectives of what just happened.

“I think it was pretty bad from our side,” center Nicklas Backstrom said after seeing the Caps outshot 36-26. “It's embarrassing, I think. Our effort is not good enough. If you're going to hunt for that playoff spot, you can't play like this. We've got to be better than that."

“I think tonight was 60 minutes of terrible effort,” Backstrom continued. “I don't know what it is, but we for sure need to talk about it.”

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner also wondered how the energy and intensity that was so palpable during their 8-3-0 run was missing against Hurricanes in one of the most important games of the season.

“It looks like we’re scared to take penalties,” Alzner said. “We’ve got to be hitting more; we’ve got to be tougher for teams to play us. Right now, it’s pretty easy to play us. Our battle and compete level hasn’t been high. The exact reason I don’t know, but it’s been a downward spiral.”