Struggling Washington Capitals searching for answers in six-game slide - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Struggling Washington Capitals searching for answers in six-game slide

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

ARLINGTON, Va. - The Washington Capitals are stuck in a six-game losing streak, and coach Bruce Boudreu is doing his best not to panic.

"The world is not doom and gloom to us," he said Tuesday.

Maybe not yet, but it's heading in that direction.

The Captials will be trying to end their longest skid since March 2007 when they play Anaheim on Wednesday. There have been some embarrassing losses along the way, including Sunday's 7-0 rout by the New York Rangers, leading to a distinct feeling of unease around a team that had the NHL's best record last season.

"We haven't been in this situation and we don't know what to do when we're losing," said two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who has just two goals during the six-game slide. "We're losing and we have to forget about it.

"We have to refresh our minds, forget about losing and remember how to win."

Since Washington's last victory—a 4-1 triumph over St. Louis on Dec. 1—the Capitals have struggled to score goals, play defence and stay healthy while seeing their lead in the Southeast Division shrink to two points over second-place Atlanta.

The nadir came Sunday, when the Rangers racked up seven goals on just 20 shots to hand Washington its worst defeat since an 8-1 loss to Pittsburgh in January 2006. Not even a fight by Ovechkin could lift the Capitals out of the doldrums, and normally positive owner Ted Leonsis tersely stated on his blog that, "no one is happy with the state of affairs."

"We don't ask a lot of our players around here. I think we have it pretty good," forward Brooks Laich said. "The organization treats us pretty well—they give us days off, they give us rest, they aren't down our throats—and as players, we have to have more respect.

"More respect for the game and more respect for our coaches to do a better job, put a better foot forward and rely on each other to get ourselves out of this."

The Capitals have outshot the opposition in each game during the skid but are having trouble finding the net, having been shut out four times in their last 13 contests.

"I hate losing. I looked it up, and I don't think I've been on a team that's lost more than three games in a row since 2001," Boudreau said. "It's something that weighs on me because I take it personally. I don't like what's going on, but I do believe in everybody in the room and that we're going to get out of it."

This losing streak couldn't come at a worse time for the Capitals, who are being featured with the rival Penguins on HBO's "24/7: The Road to the Winter Classic," which premieres Wednesday. While Pittsburgh hasn't had any problems with the added distractions, posting a 14-0-1 record over 15 games, Washington has not been ready for prime time.

"You think about it a little bit, of course," forward Nicklas Backstrom said. The cameras "are watching every step you take. It's not normal, but it's something you have to deal with. Hopefully, we can start winning again so we can show them who we really are."

Despite the team's recent struggles, Washington is still fourth in points in the Eastern Conference. But in a town that has finally started to become hockey-mad over the last couple of years, panic mode can set in quickly. Boudreau shrugged off an inquiry into his job status as a "dumb question," but the players seem cognizant that changes will be made if the slide continues.

"I tell you what. Winning teams stay together. Losing teams don't," Laich said. "And if we don't start winning, changes are going to be made and players are going to be moved out. It doesn't matter what your name is."

In what is perhaps a desperate search for a silver lining, nearly player who spoke Tuesday said the downturn will be good in the long run. The Capitals suffered a stunning first-round playoff loss to Montreal last season, so maybe this skid will give the team some much-needed fortitude it can pull from down the stretch.

"This little adversity, where guys aren't happy, is kind of forcing us to change and maybe re-examine how we do things as players, re-examine how we can be successful in a playoff atmosphere," veteran defenceman Mike Knuble said. "We're not at the end of the world yet. Sure, some teams are creeping up on us, but who wants to run away with the division all the time?

"You want to enjoy a little competition and someone nipping on your heels. I think that's good for you."