Earning two points in three games on their Western Canada road trip can hardly be labeled a success.
Yet, there was a positive mood around the team on Tuesday as they returned to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
While the Caps had not earned the points they were hoping to get in the standings, the overall feeling was that the team took a big step towards finding more consistent success this season. How? Because the players finally recognized this team needs a new identity in order to win.
Let’s face it, this is not the same team as last year.
The roster is different and because of that, the team has to play differently in order to succeed. The team has struggled with that realization in the early season, but the message seems to have finally sunk in.
"The identity I think we're definitely figuring out,” Madison Bowey said. “I think this weekend was huge. I know we have to win those hard games, those close 3-2, 4-2 battles or 2-1 battles and I think once we really bear down and get those games in and get those wins I think that's the mindset we're going to have to have and then move on from there.”
“I think we've seen what works and what doesn't work so try to do what's working for us as far as managing the puck,” T.J. Oshie said.
The turning point was the win against the Edmonton Oilers. The takeaway was more about the way they played than the win itself.
“We try to prod them in each game to do certain things, but they have to have success at it,” Barry Trotz said. “The Edmonton game was a good example. We were diligent of playing a, you know, we're not a small team and so let's be hard to check, let's defend hard and you got a good result and it felt right.”
The Caps have focused more in recent years on a faster, highly skilled style of play. Having that much skill on the roster, however, allowed for the team to cover up its mistakes. There was enough talent throughout the lineup that they could play their way out of a big mistake or a poor turnover and they could rely on their high-scoring offense to produce at a high rate.
This year is different. This year, mistakes are ending up in the back of Washington’s net and the goals have been hard to come by. They don’t have the skill to play the same way. Change was needed.
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What does that change in identity look like on the ice?
“Not giving the other teams free offense,” Trotz said. “Making sure and making good decisions at the blue lines and not just throwing the puck loosely to the middle of the ice when maybe a play's not there. Maybe hanging on to it, maybe wearing people down then being able to create some offense.”
“It will be easier for the [Lars Eller], [Tom Wilson] line, for instance,” Trotz added. “That will be more of their game than maybe the [Evgeny Kuznetsov] line or the [Nicklas Backstrom] line, but they've got to find a balance that their game has to fit into what we do. So find your game within our game and have our philosophies in place and our protocols in place and execute them consistently.”
This new identity, however, remains very much a work in progress.
“It's hard to grasp an identity sometimes,” Trotz said. “But it's coming, it's coming. I thought this trip it started to come. We'll see if we can go forward. First 12 games hasn't been that easy.”