“The worst thing is to crawl up in a corner and feel sorry for yourself,” Trotz said. “That gets old pretty quick, too, and that doesn’t do you any good. When things get tough, we always say the fight in the dog, you’ve got to have fight. We’re learning that.”
The Capitals returned to practice Monday morning having stomached their worst loss to date, reconciling the one-game-at-a-time cliché with the inevitable tendency to peek ahead on the calendar. A road-heavy stretch lurks this month, with 10 of 14 away from Verizon Center. With 24 standings points, they sit tied for 19th in the National Hockey League, clinging to playoff aspirations but, at the moment, struggling to find the consistency necessary to get there.
“You’ve got to put a streak together,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You’ve got to start to climb. Just being mediocre is not acceptable for this group.”
But it is where they now stand, booted from Toronto after a 6-2 loss one night after toppling the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders by three goals. At practice Monday, all seemed normal. They continued to work on net presence, still an issue of weakness. Trotz banged his stick and yelled whenever a drill was blundered. The players felt the mood had improved from Saturday’s aftermath, but also wondered when the results would follow.
“You shouldn’t dwell on it,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “You shouldn’t be all that grumpy about it for too long. You have a game that isn’t what you like, and you’re certainly not happy about it, probably pissed about it for a couple hours that night and then you try to forget it. But in the same breath, that’s not acceptable for what we think our team is and where we should be.
“You should put a lot of urgency into that next game. Real determined effort, if anything. Not that it wasn’t there in the tough loss. We lost for different reasons, but just puts a lot of emphasis on that next one.”
The next one will come Tuesday, at home against Vancouver, which had a three-game winning streak snapped on the road Saturday in Detroit. Before that, the Canucks had allowed just one total goal over the past week and have, throughout this young season, already enjoyed three straight victories on three separate occasions.
“You have to put consecutive wins together and start streaking in order to climb,” Laich said. “Everybody wins a couple games here and there. That’s just treading water. You need to win six, seven, eight in a row to start to climb and get above teams, and then you need to do it again to give yourself some space.”
Until then, the Capitals will continue to teeter on the fringes, talking about climbing the ladder but slipping down rungs just the same. They closed November at 6-6-2. Each time a defeat followed a victory, another loss came after that.
So Laich relayed an old message imparted by former coach Bruce Boudreau, now helming the Anaheim Ducks. Top NHL teams, Laich remembered Boudreau saying, reeled off “at least three seven-game winning streaks in the course of a season.” Here, Laich wondered what Washington’s longest winning streak was, correctly guessing the three straight over Chicago, Carolina and Columbus from Nov. 7-Nov. 11. That few, he said, wouldn’t cut it.
“When we get back on the ice tomorrow, after you lose a hockey game, it’s unacceptable to lose a second in a row,” Laich said. “You cannot lose back to back hockey games. That’s what I mean by it should light a fire. Compete wise, we have to get back to winning hockey games.”