When Alex Ovechkin scored on the first shot against the Los Angeles Kings Saturday afternoon, it looked like the Washington Capitals were in prime position to get their offense going and take a big two points against a jet-lagged Kings team. Two periods later, though, the Caps found themselves down 4-1 and running out the clock after another offensive letdown.
“Ovie scores on the first shot of the game, and we were in a good spot off and running, and we didn’t follow it up as much,” an exasperated Mike Knuble said. “It should’ve been a real spark for us, we didn’t follow it up with anything…you know, they just kind of took the game over after a while and we got what we deserved the last two games.”
In both Tuesday’s loss to San Jose and Saturday’s loss to Los Angeles, the Capitals seemed disinterested and were lackadaisical and completely ineffective on offense, throwing perimeter shots at the net and generating few rushes. After Ovechkin’s goal just a minute into the contest, the Caps had few real scoring chances.
“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” Knuble added, visibly frustrated. “There’s a lot to play for – as players, as individuals, as a team. Every game is important. Those are huge points we left on the table the last two games.”
The losses come after two big wins against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. In both games, Washington played a full, 60-minute game on both sides of the ice. The team appeared to have “flipped the switch” as the playoffs draw near.
But now, with two ugly defeats on home ice behind them, some wonder if the Caps are still in fact waiting to flip that switch that will make the team more like the President’s Trophy team of last season.
“It never happens where you just flip a switch and it goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It comes from the beginning of the game to the end of the game working your rear end off. So if they are waiting for some switch to magically appear, it’s not going to happen.”
The Kings, though, deserve some credit; they picked up their game after the first period and broke through in the second before completely taking over the game in the third. They played with more energy and more urgency and capitalized on their chances, something Washington failed to do.
“We had a good start. We took the lead,” Ovechkin said. “They kept pushing and pushing. They had the momentum and then the game.”
Added Boudreau: “It’s a one-one game going into the third. We outworked them in the first, got outworked in the second and all we had to do was outwork them in the third to start off a tough road trip and they looked like they were already thinking about what’s going on in the sun.”
After the game, the locker room was closed for a solid ten minutes for a players-only meeting. The sense of frustration was palpable as the team continues to look for answers to their poor play.
“Everybody chimed in,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Everybody had a few things to say, we just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page here.”
Now, the Capitals will head to Phoenix for what may very well be the most important stretch of the season, with the next five games on the road – three of which are on the west coast.
“There’s not a lot of urgency,” said Knuble. “We’ve gotta find it. This road trip could be great, or it could be an absolute embarrassment.”
Regardless of how the next five games go, the final 25 games of the season will be a big test for Washington, who is still fighting to keep playoff position and still has a chance to win the Southeast Division.
More losses like Saturday’s, though, and they may find themselves traveling on the road to a top seed come April.
“We’re coming to a key point in the season,” Knuble said. “I’m sure we’re all aware of that. It’s time to start throwing the switch toward the playoffs. It’s like we’re waiting for something to happen. We’re waiting for something.
“We’re entering the toughest part of the season. It’s going to be a real indicator if we’re a serious contender or not, quite honestly. We’ve got our work cut out for us and [need to] decide if we’re serious or not.”