Earlier this season Coach Bruce Boudreau termed a practice like one he put the Washington Capitals through Tuesday afternoon at RBC Center a practice without any pucks. There were pucks on the ice for the workout in Raleigh, but they weren't used quite as often as you might see on a regular day at KCI.
The players knew this day, with lengthy bag skates and other drills that emphasized plenty of hard skating, was coming after they were shut out for the second time in three games on Monday in a 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. So they accepted the tough practice and spent the time afterward discussing what they need to do to get out of this funk.
"We deserve it and Bruce said it out there he doesn't like doing it but sometimes he has no choice," Matt Bradley said. "When we've played the way we have in two of the last three games theres really nothing else we can do. It's not like there's some system reason or something we're doing on the ice as far as style of play, it's just a matter of we're not working."
Over the past three games, which go into the books as a three-game losing streak even though the middle decision was a 5-4 shootout loss to the Flyers, the Capitals have allowed 14 goals in regulation. It's one of the more particularly disappointing stretches of games during Boudreau's tenure because although there were three game streaks in the previous two seasons where Washington gave up a significant amount of goals the Capitals have been shut out in six consecutive periods of road hockey.
(Dec. 28-Jan 2 of 2009-10 the Capitals lost three straight in regulation and gave up 13 goals. In 2008-09 there was a stretch of three losses in November where they allowed 16, another three game skid in January and March during which they gave up 13 goals. But of those instances, Washington only had one shootout loss.)
One very common thread between the losses to both Atlanta and New Jersey is the Capitals' slow start. In this case the Thrashers and the Devils were teams desperate for a win, but the way they took advantage of Washington's "sleepy" starts as Boudreau called them looked very similar.
By spotting teams a 3-0 lead in the first period Washington makes their opponent's job a little easier as all they need to worry about is trying to protect that lead and there are less mistakes for the Capitals to take advantage of. Yes, the Caps can come back from a three-goal deficit but as these two shutouts have shown -- not always.
"We're on the road and it's almost like we say oh we don't have to impress our fans we just have to go out and play a nice simple road game," Jeff Schultz said. "And we just take it too easy and make it too simple early and think we're going to not have to work hard."
Washington has the chance to show that it hasn't lost track of its work ethic Wednesday against the Hurricanes, whom the Capitals played their most complete and arguably best game of the season back on Oct. 27 in a 3-0 win.
"I'm hoping it's an anomaly and you don't like to say: 'Every team goes through it' Because it puts you in an excuse mode but it's something that's new to us and we just have to deal with it," Boudreau said. "The proof isn't in the pudding or we haven't seen the results of it but I thought today was a good day so we'll see how it works out tomorrow."