Caps work on their work ethic

"It's just a matter of we're not working,'' said Matt Bradley, right. (Bill Kostroun)
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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - Not more than 10 minutes into the start of Washington Capitals practice at RBC Center on Tuesday, the team cast the pucks below the goal line or into the nets. The Capitals didn't need them to take part in lengthy skating drills. Even when practice shifted to simulated offensive possessions, there was plenty of skating involved in each turn.

"We weren't working last night, so a day like this was bound to happen," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "A day where we had a good hard day of work to make up for our lack of effort. If we don't have games like that, we won't have days like this."

Fewer than 24 hours after being shut out for the second consecutive time on the road, this time in a 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils, who own one of the worst records in the NHL, the Capitals endured a tough practice during which they focused on reestablishing a disciplined work ethic.

Washington hopes the workout will help it avoid a similar fate Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are coming off back-to-back shootout losses. In the teams' first meeting of the season on Oct. 27, the Capitals played arguably their most complete game in a 3-0 victory.

Washington has lost three in a row, including a 5-4 shootout defeat against the Philadelphia Flyers and a 5-0 loss at Atlanta, allowing 14 goals in regulation in those games. The bookend contests were both shutouts that showed a decisive lack of energy from the Capitals, who have not scored a goal on the road in six straight periods.

The mini-slump is one of the uglier stretches of Bruce Boudreau's tenure as coach - the Capitals allowed more goals (16) during a three-game losing streak in November 2008, but all of those defeats ended in regulation and Washington scored at least two goals in each.

In both shutout losses in the current slide, Washington's opponent jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period and was able to play a more conservative, defensive style and focus on simply preventing a Capitals comeback. Against the Devils, Washington mustered just four shots on goal in the first period and appeared more reactive than the aggressive team that the Capitals pride themselves on being.

Monday "was a prime example of us not playing. [It was] probably one of our worst games in two years and it was a lack of work ethic," defenseman Mike Green said. "Any time we don't work hard we get exposed and that's that. Our skill can hide it sometimes when we slack off at times, but when we're not working at all it's pretty evident how it affects us."

The Capitals are tied for the top spot in the NHL standings with Philadelphia, but they remain in search of consistency on a game-to-game basis. To lose one game in a five-goal shootout should have been the wakeup call; to do the same thing three days later, veteran Matt Bradley said, cannot be tolerated.

"It's not like there's some system reason or something we're doing on the ice as far of style of play" that is the problem, Bradley said. "It's just a matter of we're not working. . . . From guys who play the least to guys who play the most, it's on all of our shoulders to just plain and simple work harder."

Capitals notes: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth did not skate Tuesday but Boudreau said he "should be fine" to face Carolina on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Tyler Sloan likely won't play and Tom Poti is questionable. . . .

When asked why he didn't play the last 12 minutes of the third period against New Jersey, Green didn't offer specifics but added, "It is more of something that has been bothering me in the past and it is not getting better." While Green was uncertain if he would play against the Hurricanes, Boudreau said he expected him to.

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