Rod Langway, the captain of the Washington Capitals, is rarely at a loss for words. But after the Capitals lost, 5-2, to the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night, Langway just sat at his dressing-room stall, shaking his head and saying, "I don't know."
Coach Bryan Murray had a lot to say, most of it before the door was opened to media. And presumably Murray will have more to say Friday at a team meeting he has called to review the players' performances here and in a 7-0 loss at Detroit Tuesday.
Most of this season, the rest of the NHL has been laughing at the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. Losing to both back-to-back hardly is a laughing matter for a supposed Stanley Cup contender.
The Capitals' problem is not hard to pinpoint. Some players are contributing nothing and others are trying to do too much in compensation, thereby destroying the system.
One of the few Capitals with any reason to keep his head up was right wing Mike Gartner, who scored a goal here while firing eight shots at goalie Don Edwards. Gartner was the victim of incredible saves by both Edwards and Detroit's Mark LaForest, whom he tested five times.
Nevertheless, Gartner is minus six over the last three games and minus 13 for the season. He never has finished a season as a minus player during six previous NHL campaigns.
"We have to look in the mirror," Gartner said. "We can't blame the refereeing and we can't blame the coaching staff. It's not a disaster, but we have to ask ourselves if we're content to be one of the top teams in the league, go a couple rounds in the playoffs and call it a season. It's a case of whether we want to float along or win the Stanley Cup.
"A lot of those questions will be answered, I think, when we have our meeting Friday. I think we can get back on the track and make a run for it, but not by playing the way we have the last two games.
"It seems to be a combination of a lot of things. We're playing poorly and teams we're playing against are ready to play. It's not just these two games, though. We had a good game in Minnesota, but we really haven't been playing like the Washington Capitals for the last couple of weeks.
"We're running around out there. There seems to be an awful big gap between our first man, the second man, the third man and the defense. There's no unity to our attack at all. It's a case of 'See if I can do it, see if you can do it.' That's not the way we win games."
Alan Haworth produced the other Washington goal Wednesday, his 25th. In five previous NHL seasons, he never topped 24.
"The main thing is to get some wins in," Haworth said. "If the puck goes in, it goes in, but unless it helps us win it doesn't mean much.
"This time of year we usually seem to have a bit of a bad period, just the way we do at the start. I hope it's just a low period. We have to play good, solid hockey to get ready for the playoffs. I don't think this is going to be the end."
Last season, the Capitals appeared to be running away with the Patrick Division in late January, then they lost at Detroit and tied Toronto at home. After a brief revival, they were beaten by Philadelphia in the last two seconds and stumbled home in second place behind the Flyers.
An even bigger disappointment followed, as Washington was ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders.
Clearly, Murray has seen enough stumbling.
"Some people here are going to step forward or we'll have recommendations the other way," Murray said. "I want them to tell me why they're not going well. I have a lot of ideas, but I prefer to keep them to myself for now."
The Capitals play the New Jersey Devils at Capital Centre Saturday night, then play at Hartford Sunday. The All-Star break follows. Islanders 8, Flyers 4
In Uniondale, N.Y., Patrick Flatley scored twice in a five-goal first period to lead New York over Philadelphia for the fourth time in five games this season.
"We came out of the chute skating and moving the puck. It was our best period of the year," Islanders Coach Al Arbour said. "We got the jump and forced them to change their game. They seem to bring out the best in our club."
Flatley scored at 19 seconds of the first period during a goal-mouth scramble, and again at the 16:42 mark when he beat goalie Darren Jensen for a 5-0 Islanders lead after Denis Potvin's shot rebounded off the backboards.
In between, the Islanders got goals from Mikko Makala at 1:55, Mike Bossy at 4:46 and Mark Hamway at 7:13.
The Flyers' Dave Poulin scored an unassisted, short-handed goal with 21 seconds left in the first period, skating in on goalie Billy Smith after New York defenseman Stefan Persson fell down at his own blueline.