With a six-game losing streak burdening the Capitals entering last night's game against Anaheim, Coach Bruce Boudreau used Tuesday's practice in part to install a game plan that paid much attention to defense. The challenge then became if his players would carry it out to a level that would yield positive results.
While the 2-1 loss certainly wasn't the outcome the Caps were seeking, the commitment to defense produced a virtual consensus in the locker room that this style uncommon for the Capitals may just be the best way to extricate themselves from the club's longest losing streak since the 2006-07 season.
"We'll see how much we are going to stick with it," right wing Mike Knuble said. "I think it was pretty good. We used a checking line tonight, which we really don't use, so we did a couple of things a little different. It was a real cat-and-mouse game for the first period, but it stayed that way some, too."
The checking line to which Knuble was referring comprised Brooks Laich, David Steckel and Matt Bradley, and they had one vigorous shift after another in triggering a defensive stand that limited the Ducks to 24 shots, including just seven in the first period.
It was a far cry from last season's blueprint for winning, when collecting goals in bunches was the preferred strategy. It worked during the regular season, but in the playoffs, when defense normally rules the day, Washington bowed out meekly in the first round to Montreal in seven games.
"I've never had to do that before, so I'm going through it myself," Boudreau said when asked if a loss such as last night's was a necessary collateral damage associated with a shift in philosophy. "So if this is the way we have to play, it's the way we have to play. We have to win the 3-1 game, the 2-1 game. It might not look as pretty, and we might not have a 60-goal scorer, even though I think we'll have at least a 50-goal scorer . . . it's going to be a more let's create chances off turnovers then go, rather than exchange rush for rush."
The Capitals had plenty of chances against Anaheim, even though they were assimilating to a different way of playing. Laich, who scored the Capitals' lone goal, had his bid for another just miss when the puck trickled past goalie Jonas Hiller only to have the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf sweep it away at the last instant before it crossed the line. Later Alex Ovechkin had a breakaway hit the crossbar, and Nicklas Backstrom's look at a wide-open net closed sooner than expected thanks to a stellar save.
The emphasis on defense yielded far more encouraging results than what transpired in Washington's most recent performance before last night. On Sunday, the Capitals lost to the New York Rangers, 7-0, in perhaps their most uninspired showing this season.
"We haven't a had a 2-1 game, I don't think, in quite some time," defenseman Karl Alzner said, "so that is nice to see we kept everything pretty low. That's a really good team out there, too. They played a good, patient game, and I think we've got to start playing more like that."
The Capitals last were involved in a 2-1 decision seven games ago, and before that, they hadn't played to that score in 17 games. It's more of those low-scoring affairs, players said, that will push Washington back on the winning side of the ledger.
"I thought the game plan the coaches set forth was fantastic," Laich said. "I think we knew tonight's game was going to be a chess match, and our staff did a fantastic job being very sharp with that. We didn't give up many chances. We had the puck most of the night, and we were the ones with the chances."
FROM THE POST
The game story from another loss, this time to the Ducks, 2-1.
Here's a bleeping recap of the first "24/7" episode, which was bleep free.
AROUND THE WEB
Tomas Fleischmann is doing just fine in Colorado, especially after posting a hat trick last night.
Ted Leonsis sees promise in another defeat. (FanHouse)
So does Joe B, but he's still fed up. (CSN Washington)