Despite just one win in the four games, though, the Capitals remain within striking distance of both a playoff position and the top spot in the Southeast Division. The question is whether they’ll be able to take advantage of their good fortune in the final 22 games of the regular season.
“We’ve got to turn it around right away. We say that there’s a lot of games left, that we’re still in it, but that slips away pretty quick,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, who added that the players held a brief two-minute meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page moving forward.
“It was kind of to remind ourselves just to get past this stretch, stay positive, stay focused,” Alzner said. “You don’t mail it in, and that’s the thing: You’ve got to fight right to the very end.”
The Capitals failed to gain any ground on the road but caught a break because the teams they are chasing — namely Florida, Winnipeg and Toronto — have also faltered and failed to pull away from the pack.
Heading into back-to-back games this weekend, first at home against Montreal on Friday before a crucial contest at Toronto on Saturday, the Capitals sit in 10th place with 63 points. They trail Southeast-leading Winnipeg by four points and are three points behind eighth-place Florida. Meanwhile, Toronto sits two points ahead in ninth, providing another hurdle.
Making the most of this opportunity — including the possibility of home-ice advantage in the playoffs should Washington capture the division — requires wins. Given that the Capitals haven’t recorded consecutive victories since a three-game streak in mid-January, that is a daunting task.
It’s also unclear when Washington will regain the services of Ovechkin, who suffered what the team termed a “lower-body injury” that forced him to miss Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The star left wing skated for a second straight morning Thursday, but he was forced to pull up each time he attempted to explode up the ice at full speed.
Coach Dale Hunter was vague when asked about Ovechkin’s status, saying: “He tried it, he’s going to rest today again. We’ll see what he feels like tomorrow.”
While the captain’s absence is hard to ignore, Ovechkin’s teammates know that the objective doesn’t change.
“We need more of a complete team effort, everybody on the same page,” defenseman Mike Green said. “It seems like right now we’re a little bit off and just need to reel it back in. It’s not that hard. We just got to do it.”
As the NHL’s Monday trade deadline nears, the Capitals don’t know whether to expect massive or minor changes to a group fighting to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Players said they believe that regardless of who is on the roster in the days and weeks to come, the most important thing they can do is stick together.
“When you lose, the worst thing that can happen is sometimes guys start to point fingers. And we want to make sure that no matter what happens, that we don’t point any fingers,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You win as a team, you lose as a team, and if there are any problems with anything, it’s addressed in-house. But there hasn’t been; there’s nothing. The result hasn’t been there, but the worst thing we can do is get frustrated and start tearing apart at the seams.”