Given the way the Capitals were outhustled and outworked by a Buffalo Sabres squad with five members of this year’s Rochester Americans in the lineup, there was little protest in the visiting dressing room Saturday night when questioned about a lack of hard work.
“It’s a hard question to answer,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You like to think that they’re trying their hardest but at the same time, when we’re not winning a lot of the battles, you’ve gotta believe that there’s more to give.”
Washington was fresh off the lesson that when a team faces significant injury losses and relies heavily on AHL callups, it can overachieve. The Capitals saw it in Toronto exactly seven days before facing a Sabres squad in precisely the same situation, if not a worse one with nine regulars out of the lineup as opposed to the seven the Leafs were without.
Buffalo won what seemed to be every physical battle, every race for a puck or every instance where possession might have been up for grabs. And each goal they allowed seemed to knock the Capitals back yet another step, which led to a team that didn’t challenge its fate in the game at all.
“In places of course we obviously didn’t work hard enough, the couple little errors that we made that were easily fixable — maybe we got a little too emotional at some of the goals,” Karl Alzner said. “Then we do things we shouldn’t be doing and they capitalize on them right away again. Mistakes that are easy mistakes to fix and things are biting us pretty bad right now and it doesn’t seem to be going for us the other way.”
The Capitals were outscored 11-4 over the weekend and the loss to Buffalo marked the sixth time in 14 games they’ve allowed five or more goals. During that span of 14 games, they’ve been outscored 57-39.
When it seems like no offense will come the other way, the answer isn’t to simply worry purely about scoring goals, veteran Mike Knuble said.
“We worry about the end result – getting the goal. But you’ve got to worry about the process, how you go about it, how you’re going to manufacture a goal,” Knuble explained. “Don’t just focus on scoring a goal, focus on doing the right things taking care of the puck when you’re challenged offensively to give yourself a chance by doing the right things. This is 6 and 5 [goals allowed] back-to-back. Even if we were scoring a lot of goals it’s still 50-50 whether you’re going to win or not when you give up that many.”
This is the type of rut that a team needs to rely on its system and its collective confidence, but right now, it’s questionable whether the Capitals believe in either their system or each other.
“We can’t over-complicate things. I think we have to strip our game down to the very basics, start with hard work and start with good, defensive hockey,” Brooks Laich said. “It’s no secret we’re giving up too many goals; we can’t win when we’re giving up that many goals. When things aren’t going well, strip your game down, start with very basic things, do the little things right and start to build our game back up and get our identity back.”