By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 11:42 PM
ANAHEIM, CALIF. - The Washington Capitals face a test of personal and collective wherewithal again on Wednesday night when they face the Anaheim Ducks. Two days after playing with the fervor they mandated but leaving Phoenix without a victory, they have two options: play that way again and trust that commitment and consistency will pay dividends, or fall back into individualistic habits and stray from the plan.
Before this five-game trip, the Capitals spoke about what it might take to become a championship-caliber team in a closed-door, players-only meeting. According to various team sources, the discussion, which took place after a grossly inconsistent, 4-1 loss to Los Angeles, centered on individual accountability and was prompted by veteran defenseman Scott Hannan, who also happens to be the newest member in the dressing room.
"You're going to go through games and times in the season where things aren't going to go your way," Hannan said. "You can have good games, you can have bad games, but you want to try to stay on an even track. That's what it is in the playoffs; you're going to go through things in a seven-game series that can get you down and you can't let it get you down or away from the plan."
Hannan and fellow veteran Mike Knuble are the only two players on Washington's roster who have played in a conference finals series in the postseason. With 806 regular season games and 12 seasons of at least 30 games or more in the NHL, Hannan's experienced perspective offers a no-excuses take on how the Capitals must develop the steady mentality to keep pushing forward.
To be certain, the Capitals have adapted through various slumps by players and units throughout this season. Right now, getting the power play - which is 4 for 43 in the past 14 games - back on track is a priority, but inconsistent play is largely responsible for the inability to win more than three games in a row since November.
"You see when we do finally win a game or two games after we've lost a few we get so fired up that we lose focus - that happened against San Jose and L.A.," Karl Alzner said. Hannan is "something of a stabilizing force. He's just very even keel all the time. He's calmed us down when we're getting a little too wild and down on ourselves when things go wrong. He's been the guy to come up and say: 'Okay, look guys, to be a winning team this is how it's got to be.'"
Against Anaheim, which has won four straight scoring at least three goals each outing, Washington has a chance to show if that message stuck and they're capable of putting another all-around performance together after the frustrating 3-2 loss to the Coyotes.
This season represents some of the greatest adversity the Capitals' core players, who are, for the most part, 26 years old or younger, have faced in their careers. The messages from the veterans, including even a new member of the club like Hannan, don't go unnoticed.
"Of course," captain Alex Ovechkin said, when asked if it's important to have the wisdom of older players shape the team. "It's always nice when different people come and they give us some advice and see what's happening and what we have to change. [Hannan's] the kind of guy that we need."
Capitals notes: It's unclear whether Mike Green, who missed Monday's loss to Phoenix with an inner-ear trauma that resulted from the slap shot he took the head, will be in the lineup against the Ducks. Green did not take part in an optional practice at Honda Center but said he was feeling better. . . . According to a Hershey spokesman, it appears that defenseman Patrick McNeill has been recalled from the Bears and will join the Capitals on the road trip to help bolster the blue line with Green's uncertain status.