Capitals have no problems putting pucks in net, but defence is an issue already

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

ARLINGTON, Va. - For the first time in nearly two years as coach of the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau stayed off the ice during practice.

Where was he Friday morning, while owner Ted Leonsis kept a watchful eye on the workout from a balcony overlooking the rink? Poring over a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers from the night before, splicing together video to show his players the things they're doing wrong.

Boudreau was quite critical of his team right after the defeat, and he was again Friday, making clear that everyone needs to be as excited about keeping pucks out of their own net as they are about putting pucks in the opponent's.

"Sometimes they get wound up in doing one thing, and they forget the other," Boudreau said. "I've never been around a group that cared so much about winning and how every loss affects them. It's just that we're making mistakes that teams make, and we want to correct it in Game 4 rather than Game 44."

With two-time league MVP Ovechkin leading the way, the Capitals do not need to worry too much about scoring goals. Preventing them? That's a whole other story right now.

Entering Friday, the reigning Southeast Division champions led the NHL with 18 goals through four games. But here's the problem: They also were tied for the most goals allowed, 15 - and more than half of those have come after the start of the third period.

Heading into Saturday's game at the Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals have lost two games in a row, one in overtime, following two season-opening victories - and they were ahead with about 10 minutes to go in the third period of both losses.

"You can't be doing that. You can't be giving up third-period leads. You've got to hold onto it, somehow, some way," defenceman Tom Poti said. "We have to tighten up as a team and play team defence. Can't be looking for that extra goal."

At the offensive end, it's not as though Ovechkin has been doing it by himself. He's getting plenty of help.

Centre Nicklas Backstrom topped the league with 10 points after Thursday, the first NHL player since 2006 to accumulate that many through four games. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were tied for second with nine points apiece.

Backstrom, who scored twice against the Rangers, also was tied atop the league with eight assists. Ovechkin and Semin were tied for the league lead in goals with five.

After Thursday's setback, Boudreau took verbal jabs at goalie Jose Theodore, his defencemen as a group and his third-and fourth-line forwards.

On Friday, Boudreau questioned his players' "work ethic" and made the distinction between high-talent players and high-effort players - a message that appeared to be pointed at Ovechkin and Semin.

"Individuals do not win (Stanley) Cups. They can win individual games, but they will not win over the long haul. So we all have to play the same way without the puck," Boudreau said.

"We got outworked in certain situations last night, and I think that's a coach's biggest nightmare - when another team outworks you," Boudreau added. "Sometimes you have to show it on the video in front of everybody for certain people to get the message."

NOTES: RW Eric Fehr opened the season on injured reserve after off-season operations on both shoulders, and he originally was told he'd be heading to minor league affiliate Hershey for conditioning work. But Boudreau kept him with the Capitals and said Fehr could play against Detroit. "He's a big-bodied guy, and he's practised well," Boudreau said.

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