By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
While a number of problems have factored into the Washington Capitals' four-game losing streak, yesterday's team meeting and practice focused on two in particular: the dearth of "dirty" goals and the need for increased offensive output from players not named Alex.
The Capitals rank sixth in goals with an average of 3.22 per game. But during their losing streak -- the longest of the Bruce Boudreau era -- they've mustered only eight. And none of them, as Boudreau pointed out, was scored as a result of crashing the net.
After discussing the deficiencies with his players, the forwards spent about 15 minutes of the hour-long practice executing a drill in which one would fire a shot on net while a teammate raced into high traffic areas to seek out the rebound.
"That's where we're lacking," Boudreau said before the Capitals departed for a two-game road trip that makes stops in Nashville tonight and Philadelphia on Thursday. Alexander "Semin gets all the pretty goals, Alex [Ovechkin] gets all the shot goals and [Sergei Federov] got a slap shot goal. We're trying to pinpoint things that have gone wrong or [things] we haven't sustained. And that was one of things, getting goals from in the paint."
With rugged right wing Chris Clark sidelined indefinitely with a wrist injury, Brooks Laich has been the Capitals' most productive player around the crease. But Boudreau said other forwards must to be willing to wreak havoc in front of the net, and if needed, absorb the abuse dished out by defensemen, particularly as games tighten up down the stretch.
"You look at the personnel, and for some guys, it's not in their makeup," Boudreau said. "There's not a lot of Tomas Holmstroms [of Detroit] around. Brooks goes to the front of the net. You look at his goals -- 13 of his 16 have come from tipping them in or getting loose rebounds. We have to get other people going to the net a little more."
Laich, because of his efforts in Sunday's 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh, was held out of practice because of "aches and pains, which are what you get when you stand in front of the net," Boudreau said.
Laich established a career high for points (38) against the Penguins and was in jostling with defenseman Sergei Gonchar when Ovechkin scored the Capitals' second goal. But on too many other occasions, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a clear view of the shooter and defensemen swept away rebounds before a Capitals' forward arrived.
"It's everyone's responsibility to be hungrier around the net," right wing Eric Fehr said. "We've been standing around and the pucks are coming to us. But we haven't had that killer instinct to put it in the back of the net."
Equally as concerning to Boudreau, though, is the source of the offense during the losing streak, the longest by a team he's coached since his days with the Manchester Monarchs in 2004-05.
Of the eight goals the Capitals have scored during their 0-3-1 skid, Semin has accounted for four, Ovechkin has two and Sergei Fedorov and Laich have one apiece. Only Laich's breakaway goal came from a forward on the third or fourth lines. For comparison's sake, during the Capitals' season-long seven game winning streak from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, 10 forwards (and 13 players overall) contributed goals.
On Sunday, David Steckel delivered a deft pass from the defensive zone to spring Laich on his breakaway, but the big forward has only two goals in his past 25 games. Matt Bradley hasn't tallied in his last 27 games, Boyd Gordon has gone 22 games without one and Donald Brashear's only goal came on Dec. 4.
While their primary responsibility ultimately is to prevent goals, the grinders must find a way to chip in, even if it's only occasionally.
"It's all come from the power play or Sergei or a kid named Alex," Steckel said. "You look at the times when we haven't had secondary scoring, then you look at when we have, and see how much more successful we were."
Boudreau said he wants his third and fourth line forwards to change their mind-set.
"We tell them: cycling is wonderful," he said. "But you have to take it to the net if you want to score. You have to be in position. It's something that we keep saying to them and hopefully they'll get one in. [When the third or fourth line] gets a goal, we usually have success."
Capitals Notes: Michael Nylander returned to practice after missing Sunday's game with an undisclosed upper body injury. Boudreau said he hopes the veteran center will be available Thursday or Saturday. . . . The Predators have won six of their last seven games.