The Washington Capitals didn’t have a day off Sunday as originally scheduled. Instead, they were on the ice for practice about 15 hours after their dreadful 7-1 loss in Toronto, one of four straight defeats and an even longer stretch of games featuring poor, unfocused play.
With another game Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes and a total of four contests in the next six nights, there’s no rest for a team that has made a trend out of careless defensive-zone coverage. A players-only meeting on Friday in Toronto — a day the Capitals were given off from practice — didn’t yield much of a response, and a practice seemed necessary to reinforce systems.
There were signs of a possible change Sunday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as top-six winger Alexander Semin skated as a rotating part of the fourth line. When there are 13 healthy forwards, one of the four players on that line usually will be scratched the next day. Asked about the possibility that Semin would be held out of Monday’s game, Coach Bruce Boudreau said only, “Infer what you want.”
Semin, one of the Capitals’ highest-paid players, was benched for the second half of Washington’s 3-1 win in New Jersey on Nov. 11. Since then he has recorded one point (a goal), been a combined minus-1 and taken four minor penalties. The Russian winger, who has seen his ice time drop to an average of 16 minutes 21 seconds, down from 18:04 last season, leads the Capitals in penalty minutes (28) and has been called for a minor in each of the past seven games.
Captain Alex Ovechkinhasn’t recorded a point in the past four games, tying the longest drought of his career from February 2007. Asked after Sunday’s practice what he would say to the team to try to lead it out of the slump, Ovechkin declined to go into detail.
“We talked as a group a couple days ago,” Ovechkin said, referring to the players-only meeting. “It’s just between me and the team. I don’t think I have to tell you guys what we talking about, what was about the talk, but everybody have to realize we’re one group and if we win together, we lose together. You can’t just say we lose because one guy didn’t play and that’s why we lose. Everybody lose and everybody win.”
But after consecutive questionable losses to Winnipeg and Toronto, many players owned up to the fact that so far, talking has gotten them nowhere.
“You can say as much as you want but until you do the things necessary to turn the ship it doesn’t really matter,” Matt Hendricks said. “It’s the same stuff we talk about all the time; our system play isn’t where it needs to be. We’re not doing the things necessary to win hockey games.”
Washington on Sunday recalled highly touted defensive prospect Dmitry Orlov, in part because there is no sign that Mike Green is near a return from the strained right groin muscle he suffered on Nov. 11 against New Jersey. Green hasn’t skated since that game and the Capitals have missed his speed, offensive capabilities and prowess on the power play. While Orlov, 20, may need time to learn, he could help inject those qualities into the lineup.
“Right now we’re not scoring goals and the power play is zero for the century so you’ve got to do something,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. “Hopefully he’ll bring some new life and it will get us going.”
The Capitals have 21 points, and before the conclusion of Sunday’s games they sat in eighth place in the Eastern Conference — four points behind first-place Philadelphia but only two ahead of Winnipeg in 13th.
It is only November, but if Washington can’t rectify its play quickly it will open the door for other teams to gain steam in the standings. A more immediate concern is that if the poor play continues, it could possibly lead to changes in the dressing room or behind the bench.
“Sometimes I think we did maybe too good of a job of moving on [from a loss], we didn’t learn from our mistakes from the game before,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “You do need to learn and progress as a team. I think it’s really hitting the guys right now that something needs to change, and it starts with our work ethic.”