As the Capitals searched for answers following another ugly, disjointed defeat — 4-1 to the Canadiens on Thursday night — players consistently pointed to an attribute that they, and they alone, control: work ethic. It’s how they correct mistakes, how they prevent penalties and what should drive their games.

“If I had to say one thing, I’d say work ethic,” Troy Brouwer said when asked what’s going wrong. “We’re not out of shape. That’s an excuse right now. Guys are professionals here. They came into camp in shape, ready to go, and it’s not — you know, fitness. It’s work ethic. We’re getting outworked. We’ve been outworked three times. We’ve lost three games.”

The Capitals are the only team in the Eastern Conference without a point and every game that passes without any traction drops them further behind their foes. That alone should be enough to light a fire within a team, but at this stage Washington has yet to shift into gear.  So what can they do for motivation?

“I don’t know, you got any ideas? I’m out of ‘em right now. Otherwise, we’d be working a little harder,” Brouwer said. “I think guys have got to take it upon themselves to really pick their game up. You know, we don’t need a rah-rah coach right now. We don’t need guys to yell and scream. We need guys to be professional and play hard, tough hockey.”

It’s a good thing Brouwer doesn’t believe he and his teammates need a rousing speech from the staff because Coach Adam Oates isn’t the type to deliver them. He believes it is a player’s responsibility to be prepared every day, he’s not going to hold their hand through the process.

“I’m not a believer in the Knute Rockne speech. I’m not. We’re pros. You got to be a pro and you got to do your job. It’s not always gonna go your way. And you gotta show up for work.

“At times it’s effort. You got to want it,” Oates added. “You got to realize that the team on the other side, they want it, too. And you got to fight through stuff. You got to really want to do it.”

The majority of the errors, players said, can be traced back to work ethic. While there’s a few who are clearly working every shift and scraping to try and establish some momentum, the group isn’t working as a whole.

“Some of those little breakdowns that we’ve had are not really working or paying attention to getting into the right spot,” Joey Crabb said. “We’ve got a lot of skill on this team and that’s something that you can’t control on a lot of teams, but what you can control is your work ethic and how hard you play. Obviously we know what we got to do.”

So how can they fix and eliminate the self-inflicted damage?

“It’s up to us. We’re playing. Even if we got a new system, it’s not such a big difference from the other system,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s just a matter of work and make the right decisions at the right time. It’s all about that and right now we’re not doing that.”