Caps look to avoid post-Winter Classic slump

With the spectacle of the Winter Classic in the rearview mirror, the Washington Capitals hope to keep the momentum going with a Sunday matinee visit from the Florida Panthers.

Forward Troy Brouwer, who scored the game winner against his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, said he did not think the team would have a problem moving ahead.

“Regardless of how emotional the game was, what the stage was, how it played out, we still have work to do,” he said. “We’ve done a good job over the past month, getting points and getting wins and we need to try and continue that.”

Goalie Braden Holtby, who had 33 saves against the Hawks on Thursday, echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“The emphasis we put on this game is the two points in our locker room,” he said. “It means a lot more to us as professionals, as the Capitals, than anything else.  So, realistically, the next game we play, it’s the same mindset, that that’s the main goal and obviously different circumstances create different problems, but in the end the two points count the same.”

The importance of every game and every point is not lost on the Capitals, who are just one point ahead of the New York Rangers in the tight Metropolitan division.

“We’re playing a team that is two points behind us in the standings,” Brouwer said, referencing the upcoming matchup against the Panthers. “We’ve got to continue to try to keep separation between the teams below us while trying to catch the teams ahead of us.

“For us it is no time for us to back our game off and be happy with a big emotional win in the Winter Classic. We got to continue and move on…and string some more points here.”

Coach Barry Trotz preached a smooth return to normalcy for his players.

“You’ve got a big build-up to a fantastic game and a great show and now you’re going back to the regular routine,” he said.

He said expects no easy game against the Panthers, citing the closeness of their previous meetings.

“You’ve got to recognize we’re playing a very good team here in Florida,” said Trotz. “It’s a four-point game…they’re right there with us.”

Trotz admitted that he did have some worries about the adjustment, with the oversized gaggle of journalists and TV cameras suddenly gone from the locker-room.

“My biggest fear thinking about it is ‘are we going to be hyped up again? Did we build ourselves up to a certain point?’” he said. “But I think this group, they still want to learn and keep creating an identity for us. I think they’re excited. You have got to feel good about what we’ve been trying to do lately and we’ve just got to see if we can continue it.”

Although months away, the playoffs are already on the minds of those in the Capitals locker-room. Trotz said he thinks the experience playing on such a national platform would help the Caps cope with the pressures of the trip deep into May they are all hoping for.

“There are big stages and obviously the pressure of playoff series, every game is so important,” he said. “Yesterday was a little different. It probably doesn’t have the impact the playoffs do…but I think everything leading up to it [was similar], having the constant media scrutiny, the pressure.”