Two weeks ago General Manager George McPhee singled out frequent, unnecessary penalties as the single most damaging problem for the Washington Capitals in their sluggish start. Thursday night in their latest loss, they showed that they still haven’t found a way to eliminate the flaw.

The Capitals entered the third period with a one-goal lead, but five consecutive penalties in the span of 7 minutes 56 seconds derailed their efforts and paved the way for a 3-2 New Jersey Devils victory at Verizon Center.

While some of the calls may have been debatable — several players questioned the validity of the rash of minors they were whistled for in the third — the Capitals simply cannot afford to continue taking this many penalties. This defeat dropped the Capitals (5-10-1) back into last place in the NHL and whether the penalties were real or imagined, it’s costing them valuable points.

“I thought maybe a couple of calls are tough calls,” Coach Adam Oates said, calling a tripping penalty on Alex Ovechkin into doubt. “But bottom line is that’s too many. It’s been too many times.”

Washington held a 2-1 lead at the start of the third thanks to goals by Mathieu Perreault and Mike Ribeiro, but less than three minutes into the final period their parade to the penalty box began. Grinder Matt Hendricks went off for holding New Jersey star winger Ilya Kovalchuk 2:55 into the third, and while that penalty alone might not have been problematic, officials called Washington for delay of game 14 seconds later, after Jay Beagle shot the puck over the glass.

It marked the eighth such minor penalty the Capitals have been called for this season, but there was some uncertainty as to whether it would actually be a penalty. The referees explained that although the puck landed in the Washington bench it was a penalty because it arced over the top of the glass and the crowd en route to its final destination.