A month ago, the Capitals embarked on a five-game road trip that had a do-or-die feel about it, with a growing concern that time was running out to fix their roller-coaster ride of a season. This time, as they head to Montreal for their longest stretch of games away from Verizon Center, they’ve won a season-high eight contests and finally possess a swagger.
The Capitals have learned how to play in one-goal games — seven of the eight wins on this streak have been decided by that margin, largely by clamping down on opponents defensively — and they’re gradually starting to rediscover a scoring touch.
“I think we all had to face the fact that we’re not what we used to be,” winger Mike Knuble said before the team traveled to Canada on Monday. “Guys are finally accepting it that while we’d like to score a lot more we are going to play in tight games. There was a little while there where it felt like we were one mistake away from winning or losing a game – that’s a lot of pressure to play under.
“But it kept us from sliding and slacking off. When you win, a lot things slide under the rug; mistakes are overlooked. When the line is so fine between winning and losing now, the coaching staff doesn’t let us get away with things we might have in the past.”
Knuble has long said that the Capitals need to be playing well by the time they got to the final stretch of this regular season. With 12 games remaining, there is greater sense on this team of accountability and commitment to defensively-sound hockey.
“You can be just as proud of your team winning 2-1 as you are when it wins 7-5,” Knuble said. “There are a lot of players on our team that have scored all throughout their lives. Then this season, when it wasn’t so easy to score, they had to ask themselves: ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to help?’”
So have the Capitals started to grow up? Knuble thinks so.
“They’re not just kids anymore with the let’s-fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants attitude and no responsibility,” he said. “The organization has committed to them -- contract wise, money wise -- and they have to be players that don’t just get their three points and call it a good game, but the guys that get two points, are a plus-two and take care of their own end. That’s how you become a great player in this league, and I think guys have come to terms with that a little bit.”