The Washington Capitals hadn’t been on the ice for more than a few minutes Wednesday at the team’s practice facility in Arlington before they were told to line up on both goal lines for suicide sprints. They expected this, players said afterward, that the uninspired effort in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars and in other recent outings warranted it.
Coach Bruce Boudreau put the Capitals through a grueling, hour-and-a-half long workout, with four sets of suicide sprints spaced throughout an endless number of one-on-one battle drills that emphasized digging pucks out along the boards and outworking a foe.
Less than a half hour into the session, in the midst of the second bag skate, numerous players started to double over and rest their hands on their knees as they tried to catch their breath; captain Alex Ovechkin crouched on all fours on the ice as he waited for his next round of sprints.
The message “was compete,” Boudreau said. “As far as the skating, if we’re not going to work as hard as we anticipate or thought we should have the night before, we’ll work a little bit harder today.”
The last time Boudreau put the Capitals through a practice of this nature came on Nov. 2, 2008, the day after a 5-0 shellacking in Buffalo, when he took away a scheduled day off and put the team through a punishing skate. Washington lost the next game, 2-1, in overtime at Ottawa but wound up winning six of eight games after the workout.
This week, with Washington coming up losers in four of its last six outings and being outworked in the last two defeats by the New York Islanders and Stars, there was little doubt that the overarching theme of accountability that the organization has preached since mid-summer would be reinforced through sweat.
Ovechkin agreed that the Capitals lacked effort in the pair of losses, but said he didn’t believe it was the time for team meetings or further intervention among the players themselves.
“Right now it’s just the two games,” Ovechkin said. “If we going want to win the game, we have to play how we play against Carolina and how we start playing this year.”
But many players, including Mike Knuble, who criticized the team Tuesday night for a lack of urgency and commitment to the game plan, using the words “losers”, “clowns” and “embarrassing,” believe that the onus for accountability rests more on the players themselves.
“It’s not [Boudreau’s] job to come in and beg and plead and literally get down on his hands and knees and ask us to play well and play within our system. It’s up to us,” said Knuble, who stood by his previous comments Wednesday but said he could have used a little more “tact” when addressing the team’s weaknesses.
Despite the harsh nature of Knuble’s comments, the well-respected veteran’s opinion carried weight throughout the dressing room and even with the coaching staff.
“That’s what leaders do,” Boudreau said of Knuble, 39. “They get mad and then they lead by example and you have the oldest guy here working harder than anybody. He said what he said last night but just didn’t come out here and not work. He was the hardest working guy out here, which is why you have great leaders like Mike Knuble.”
From established veterans to role players to even the star left wing, everyone said they agreed that the wake-up call they received via Boudreau’s tough skate was necessary.
“We needed it,” Matt Hendricks said. “We’ve got leaders in the room that step up and say things, but it’s 22 guys. To get everyone on the same page every night is not an easy task, that’s something we work on as a group. Until we decide to figure it out on our own, though, there’s not much [Boudreau] can do. We know the remedy, we’ve just got to go out and do it — execute.”
Defenseman Karl Alzner echoed that take: “It’s up to us to remind ourselves before every game, before every shift, in-between periods, this is up to us. . . . Everyone’s got to take a step back, look inside themselves and ask, ‘Am I working as hard as I can? Am I being accountable?’ I think there’s a lot of us right now that aren’t.”
Capitals notes: Mike Green, who has missed six consecutive games with a right ankle injury, participated fully in the lengthy practice and appeared to weather the tough drills well. Green is still questionable for this weekend’s back-to-back games against New Jersey, though. . . .
Jay Beagle (concussion) did not skate Tuesday but Boudreau said the plan is for the winger to skate every other day, alternating with lengthy off-ice workouts.