In the moments following the Capitals’ unsightly 5-4 loss to Florida on Monday night, it was obvious that losses aren’t all that’s piling up.
Frustration is, too.
The Capitals have lost five of six, are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games and are mired in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. It's something the four-time Southeast Division champions are unaccustomed to.
“We came into the third and [Mike Knuble] kind of reminded us that we're a team that normally can [rally], and we haven't done it, and we've got to show some pride here and a little bit of character,”Karl Alzner said in a silent and mostly vacated visiting dressing room at BankAtlantic Center.
“It was nice that we made a push there,” he added, referring to scoring three goals in the final 20:20 and out-shooting the Panthers13-6 in the third period. “But Florida sat back a little more than they normally do, so that helped us a little bit.”
The source of the players’ irritation was both the execution and effort level, particularly during a first period in which Washington was assessed four minor penalties and goalie Michal Neuvirth allowed Mike Santorelli’s knuckling shot to beat him and put the visitors behind 2-0, just 7:03 into the contest.
“In the first period we weren't as good as we can be,” Alzner said. “There were a few too many odd-man rushes and they were making plays around us. It was just not a very good effort from us in the first two [periods]. We want to get good starts; we haven't been having too many good starts this year. We shoot ourselves in the foot right away.”
Indeed, after yielding three first period goals to the Panthers, the Capitals have now been out-scored 28-23 in the opening 20 minutes this season.
“We've just got to make a bigger push,” a surly Jason Chimera told reporters. “Right from the goalie out, we've got to be better right off the bat. …Just overall, we've got to get more.”
Alzner said the players are beginning to grasp Coach Dale Hunter’s systems but they easily slip back into old habits, particularly in the defensive zone.
“We're starting to figure it out,” he said. “One thing I personally like seeing is our offensive zone. Guys are cycling the puck great, and they're moving it to [defense]. We're starting to get some pucks through, and [John Carlson] did a great job of that tonight.”
“So I think that's something that's getting better,” he continued. “But still sometimes we go back to our old ways in the D-zone.”
The strongest comments came from Brooks Laich. Although I shared them in my game story and on Twitter last night, they bear repeating because they seemed to perfectly sum up the mood:
“It’s not acceptable to play hockey for 20 minutes [in the third period] and not execute for the other 40,” he said, his arms folded.
“We’re not here to try; we’re here to win.”
The Capitals are scheduled to hit the ice for practice at 11:30 here in South Florida before flying to Ottawa this afternoon. I’ll have some updates from the rink later and more reaction to realignment.