Slumping Senators face Capitals

WASHINGTON — The struggling Washington Capitals defense will look to improve against the scuffling Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 39th goal of the season Monday night for Washington (35-21-7), but that was the lone highlight in a 5-1 loss at Columbus. The Blue Jackets scored four first-period goals — two on the power play — and cruised to the win.

Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who entered play with a 4.28 goals-against average during February, made 12 saves on 16 shots in the first period and was lifted to start the second. It was the second time in his last four starts that Holtby (0-4-2 in his last six) was pulled early.

“I’ve had (Holtby) for four years; I have a lot of confidence in Braden,” coach Barry Trotz told the Washington Post. “He’s been a good goaltender for a long time. Yeah, I have confidence in him.”

Holtby came in with a career 14-3-2 mark against Columbus and had won his first three starts of the season against the Blue Jackets.

Phillip Grubauer made 18 saves over the final two periods, but Washington couldn’t draw closer against Sergei Bobrovsky and fell to 8-8-4 over its past 20 games.

“We’ve got to bail each other out,” Trotz told the Post. “Sometimes the goalie is bailing you out. Other nights, you’ve got to bail the goalie out. It’s on everybody tonight, me included.”

The Philadelphia Flyers, 1-0 shootout winners over Montreal, passed the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Ovechkin played his 984th game, the most in Capitals history, breaking a tie with Calle Johansson, and is three goals shy of becoming the 20th player to score 600 NHL goals.

Ottawa (21-30-10) will arrive in Washington with defenseman Erik Karlsson, after Monday’s trade deadline passed without Karlsson changing teams.

“We’re not going to hide the fact that Erik is a franchise player,” general manager Pierre Dorion told ESPN. “He’s our franchise player … and we felt there was no franchise deal out there to make us a better hockey team.”

Mired near the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings, the struggling Senators were expected to trade the 27-year-old, who becomes a free agent after next season.

Last time out, Ottawa lost to the Flyers 5-3 on Saturday. Mike Hoffman had a goal and an assist, Mark Stone had two assists, and Craig Anderson made 34 saves for the Senators.

The Senators are 0-3-1 in their past four games after winning four of six, but may improve with the uncertainty of the trade deadline behind them.

“It’s tough, and we’ve addressed it a little bit in the room here, but it’s human nature: When you don’t know where you’re waking up tomorrow, trust me, I know, you’re not sure what’s going to happen, it’s really distracting,” Matt Duchene told NHL.com.

Washington took the first two meetings between the teams this season. On opening night, Ovechkin had a hat trick as the Capitals won 5-4 at Ottawa.

On Nov. 22 in Washington, Holtby made 29 saves and Jakub Vrana scored twice in a 5-2 Capitals’ win.

Anderson is 11-8-2 with a 2.47 GAA and .918 win percentage versus Washington.

Grubauer is 1-2 with a 2.01 GAA and .942 save percentage when facing Ottawa. Holtby is 2-0, 2.88 and .905 against the Senators.