Many NHL teams struggle with aftermath of winning streaks
Bruce Boudreau knows a thing or two about winning streaks.
He coached Washington's 14-game run in 2010, Anaheim's 11-gamer last season and Minnesota Wild's 12-gamer in December. A hockey savant behind the bench, Boudreau sees a winning streak as a bell curve - and the end isn't pretty.
''At the end of a winning streak, you're usually not playing very well, and it takes a while to get back to your game,'' Boudreau said. ''Once you lose and the hurriedness or of the fact that it's a winning streak (ends), you still keep going down a little bit until you build it back up through practice and determination, really. That's why losing streaks follow winning streaks in almost every sport.''
The Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers can nod their heads knowingly. The teams with the longest winning streaks this season have for the most part struggled after them, except for Boudreau's Wild, who are one point back of the top spot in the Western Conference.
Washington has lost 10 of 26 since its nine-game streak, Columbus has lost 15 of 32 since winning 16 in a row and Philadelphia has lost 24 of 36 and fallen out of contention since its 10-game run that now feels like ancient history.
Coach John Tortorella's Blue Jackets came one victory short of tying the NHL record for the longest winning streak, and on the night it ended, he said he'd judge his team by what came next. It wasn't always smooth, but Columbus is back playing its game with less than a month until the playoffs begin.
''Two or three weeks ago, we had some struggles, and I thought that was one where I really liked the way the room reacted,'' Tortorella said. ''They grabbed a hold of themselves and I think they managed that part of the year not to lose three or four in a row.''
The Capitals are trying to grab a hold of themselves after an 0-for-California road trip and their first four-game skid since November 2015. Their home winning streak ended at 15 last week, and their lead over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins is down to two points.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, a contender to win a second consecutive Vezina Trophy, considers this adversity a good thing for a team that hasn't had much of it lately.
''If we're good enough to be a championship team, we will get through this,'' Holtby said. ''We just haven't quite adjusted to everyone else playing playoff hockey quite yet. ... I think it's a good eye-opener, and a good wakeup call that this is a playoff run now.''
The come down from a winning streak is a time-honored hockey tradition that Troy Loney thinks may have cost the 1992-93 Penguins a third straight Stanley Cup. That was the most talented group following back-to-back titles, and it won 17 consecutive games just before the playoffs started. Pittsburgh couldn't recapture that form and lost in the second round.
''It takes a lot emotionally, physically and mentally to ride a streak like that,'' Loney said. ''We couldn't find the gear consistently.''
That'll be a challenge for the Calgary Flames, winners of 10 straight. The Capitals beat the Wild 4-2 on Tuesday night to get back on track and send Minnesota to its fifth loss in seven games.
But even after a difficult defeat, Boudreau was confident his team would bounce back, showing what players said about him maintaining composure amid the twists and turns of a season.
''He makes sure that we're prepared for every single game, whether we've won 12 in a row or whether we've lost the game or the last couple,'' goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. ''That's a huge part of not having extended lulls, because he treats that next game after the winning streak the same way as he treated Game 6 or 7 during that streak, and that keeps everybody level-headed and prepared.''
Sam Gagner and Jonathan Marchessault are the best bargains in the NHL. According to CapFriendly's cost-per-point metric, Columbus is paying Gagner $15,116 per point on his $650,000 salary for his 43 points and the Florida Panthers $17,857 on Marchessault's $750,000 salary for his 42 points - by far the top two for players not on entry-level contracts.
Tortorella said Gagner earned respect right away by signing quickly and not haggling over money. Marchessault didn't have much leverage either after the Tampa Bay Lightning let him go.
''They have their go-to guys and they didn't add in as much I think space for me there,'' Marchessault said, adding that he's lucky to be with the Panthers. ''I think the coach put me in a position that I was able to (have) success and I was able to take my chance.''
GAME OF THE WEEK
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and the young playoff-contending Toronto Maple Leafs get a big test at home against the three-time-champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.
Goals: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) and Brad Marchand (Boston), 35; Points: Connor McDavid (Edmonton) and Patrick Kane (Chicago), 76; Defenseman Points: Brent Burns (San Jose), 70; Ice Time: Dustin Byfuglien 27:44, Goals-Against Average: Holtby, 2.03; Save Percentage: Dubnyk, .930.
AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, and Greg Beacham in Anaheim, California, contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .