Choosing if and when to play the grueling practice card as a coach, is something that can’t be done rashly. It’s not a tactic that can be used on a regular basis, or else it loses the ability to send a message as players become desensitized to it.

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After the Capitals failed to work in a 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars Tuesday, Coach Bruce Boudreau weighed his options.

“It’s not something you do off the cuff,” Boudreau explained. “The initial thought is you’re so mad you want to do something and then you have to sit and say, ‘Okay, you’re mad, let’s do the right things here. What’s best for the group and everybody?’ You talk it over with the assistant coaches and we come to a decision that the initial thought is probably the thought that was going to work in this case. It’s not something that you do every day because if it’s one of those things that if you do it every day, it’s not going to work.”

Boudreau said the only comparable practice he’s put the Capitals through in his tenure came after a 5-0 loss in Buffalo on Nov. 1, 2008. Washington was supposed to have an off day, but instead Boudreau brought the team in for a tough skate. The Capitals lost the next game, 2-1, in overtime at Ottawa, but ultimately reeled off six wins in eight games following the punishment practice.

“I’ve seen it work both ways,” Boudreau said of the after effects of a tough practice. “Sometimes, boy, it doesn’t work, but it’s the same way as coaches, they try things; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I don’t know if it’s right or if it’s wrong, but you can’t stay status quo when you’re not playing well.”

To be certain, Wednesday’s workout at KCI wasn’t limited to suicide sprints – though it did include four of them spaced out throughout the practice. The rest of the hour and a half was dedicated to battle drills, one-on-one work in corners and winning all of those individual tests.

For one of the drills, the nets were pulled into a corner of the rink roughly 20 feet apart. With the goaltenders in the nets, players proceeded to crash and bang on two-on-two battle drills, crushing teammates with every check in pursuit of the puck. Boudreau wanted to make sure that if he was going to have a tough practice, the Capitals got something more than just skating out of it.

“They were smiling and laughing and yet they were kicking the crap out of each other so it doesn’t necessarily – hard work doesn’t necessarily have to mean punishment and it was if you want to compete, it can be fun,” Boudreau said.

“I’ve never understood it quite frankly…the Herb Brookses [suicides] where you play the game and you lose and you get back to the arena, put the wet equipment on and you skate for two hours. You put it on auto pilot [as a player],” Boudreau said. “But if we’re going to work hard I don’t want to waste a day. We can work hard and be productive at the same time, I think.”