By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 12:07 AM
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - At the conclusion of practice here Sunday afternoon, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau rounded up his team for one more pep talk, his words echoing off the glass at Jobing.com Arena.
"It's time to ramp it up," Boudreau said.
On Monday the Capitals kick off a five-game trip against teams that are all alive in the race to the postseason when they meet the Phoenix Coyotes, winners of their past four outings. And with only 26 games remaining in the regular season, the players know it's time to produce results to go along with all the goals they've talked about since exiting last year's Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round.
Since Dec. 1, Washington has not won more than three games in a row, and a streak of that length occurred only once. The frustration with passive performances, like in losses last week to San Jose and Los Angeles, prompted a players-only meeting before the team flew to Arizona, to make sure each player was aware of his role and on the same page in pursuit of larger goals.
"We have to come together right now," defenseman Mike Green said. "We have our system in place, we know what to do, but everybody has to be accountable for everything that goes on here. We have no reason to panic yet, but we aren't comfortable. . . . We're running out of time. There isn't any more time left to waste, for us to figure this out."
The Capitals are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference but tied at 68 points with Montreal (which has played one more game). Washington is only eight points ahead of ninth-place Atlanta, and just eight teams make the postseason in each conference. That gridlock means Washington can ill afford to leave many points on the table over the coming weeks, beginning with this trip. The opponents they will face, though, won't make it easy.
Four teams - Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose and Pittsburgh - are in playoff position, while Buffalo is just four points out of eighth in the East. Boudreau said a successful trip to him would be to win four out of five contests and get at least one point out of the other.
"If we ever did something like that - it's tough to do but not" impossible," Boudreau said. "That would be the steppingstone that this team needed in the last quarter of the season."
Chief among the things the Capitals must do to accomplish that feat, or something near it, is establishing consistency, Boudreau said. Asked to elaborate, he stressed finding an even keel offensively to go along with the defense and goaltending that has allowed an average of only two goals against per game in the past 20 contests.
"I think it's more individual than it is collectively as a team," Boudreau said. "It's consistency in scoring, I think. The power play, which has been pretty bad, quite frankly, still has moments of doing good and moments of doing really bad. I think the consistency is for scoring goals. We can get five against [Tampa Bay] and come back and get three [against Pittsburgh] then get zero and one. That's the frustrating part."
To get everything on track simultaneously, the Capitals say they need to win battles all around the ice, make forechecking a priority and get accountability from each player - many of the same traits they've held in high regard throughout the season. At this juncture, though, the players cite a different sense of urgency in meeting those self-mandated goals.
"We're not the Capitals of last year, but the Capitals of last year lost out in the first round, too. For us the goal is bigger," forward Brooks Laich said. "We're working out things, we've adjusted things that we think are going to help us in the playoffs and now it's time to really iron that out so our game is seamless and flawless."
Said center Nicklas Backstrom: "We have to be ready when we go out there, do all the little things right and actually do it. That's the biggest thing we have to worry about, these are tough games, and if we aren't ready, if we don't do it we'll only have ourselves to blame if we lose."
Capitals notes: Right wing Eric Fehr, who has missed the past 11 games with an injured shoulder, traveled with the team to Phoenix but is still unable to participate in full-contact drills. . . . Defenseman Tom Poti (groin) did not make the trip.