Monday morning, the Washington Capitals endured more than two hours of meetings, video clips and practice to improve on the team's awful penalty killing, which ranks last in the NHL. After last night's brutal 7-1 loss to Anaheim at MCI Center the coaching staff might want to extend the process to all aspects of the game. That's what the players are bracing for.
"We've got to pay for this," winger Peter Bondra said. "There is no excuse to play like that."
The Capitals (2-3-1), who embark on a tough, four-game West Coast trip this weekend, barely bothered to show up last night, and, appropriately, only 10,522 turned up to watch them, the smallest crowd of the season. They were treated to one highlight: Jeff Halpern scoring his first NHL goal in the third period on an assist from Miika Elomo, earning his first NHL point. Oh, and the penalty killing was much improved.
Other than that, the Capitals were outclassed and consistently out-worked and out-muscled for the puck by Washington Coach Ron Wilson's former team. In the process, many of the same old problems were exposed -- allowing an early goal, playing soft around their own net -- as well as some new ones (little backchecking, no intensity).
They were never really in the game, wasting little time before falling behind. Pavel Trnka fired a routine shot from the blue line that slipped between Olaf Kolzig's pads a little more than three minutes into the game.
The Capitals have allowed the first goal in all six games this season. The numbers are staggering: Anaheim scored in 3 minutes 9 seconds; San Jose scored in 6:41; Philadelphia scored after just 51 seconds; Buffalo scored in 5:56; and Florida found the net 3:28 into the opening game of the season. The Capitals held Los Angeles off the scoreboard in the first period, but yielded two goals early in the second.
Anaheim entered with plenty of problems itself. The Mighty Ducks had been outscored 13-9 at even strength and had given up goals in the opening two minutes of their past two games. They were playing their fourth game of a five-game, nine-day road trip. None of it, however, seemed to bother them a bit.
"We stunk," Wilson said. "That's a good, old-fashioned butt-kicking, and maybe that's exactly what we need. . . . I think some guys should be absolutely appalled at how they played."
Teemu Selanne expanded the lead about 12 minutes into the game, when three Capitals gravitated to the boards, leaving the league's top goal scorer from last season all alone. He put a jaw-dropping move on Kolzig, who had no chance. The Capitals mustered little offense, and no sustained pressure. Adam Oates made a smart feed to Yogi Svejkovksy, who shot over the crossbar. Oates and Steve Konowalchuk worked hard on the penalty kill, and set up defenseman Sergei Gonchar, wearing a full face shield in his first game back after nearly breaking his nose. But Gonchar sent the puck high as well.
Washington spent the opening two minutes of the second period on the power play, but could not convert. Then the Capitals completed the collapse, falling hopelessly out of the game. Mike Leclerc (two goals) scored from an impossible angle behind the net, throwing the puck off Kolzig's skate and in 2:17 into the period. Selanne won a puck behind the net, a wide-open Kariya clanged a wrist shot off the cross bar and Matt Cullen (four points) stuffed the rebound into an empty net.
"We have to watch the tape and learn from this," defenseman Calle Johansson said. "We can't just forget about this, we have to talk about it and learn from it."
Less than 27 minutes into the game, the Capitals trailed, 4-0. The Mighty Ducks scored their four goals on just 11 shots. Backup goalie Craig Billington entered the game after two periods and was left defenseless on the first shot he faced as Selanne finished off a two-on-one break.
The game might as well have ended right then; the Capitals' work has just begun.