Just five months ago, the Capitals hoisted the Stanley Cup after going 16-8 in 24 playoff games. They returned almost the exact same roster this season, but through 11 games, they have only managed to muster a record of 5-4-2.
Through the first 11 games, the one word that probably best describes their play is sloppy. They have not been terrible, but the team is making uncharacteristic turnovers, they have been careless with the puck and they are just not playing the brand of hockey we have grown accustomed to seeing from this team.
Has Washington succumbed to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover?
“Maybe a little,” Brett Connolly said after an optional skate on Friday. “I think if you look at our season and how long it went, you look at past teams that have won too, Pittsburgh for an example. I think they kind of went through the same things we're going through right now.”
When you dig a little deeper, you find that the real answer depends on what specifically a “Stanley Cup hangover” means.
Ask if the players are feeling the effects of a long playoff run and if they may not have come into the season in the best shape because of the short offseason, and to a man, they will say no.
“I don't think the short offseason has much to do with it,” Braden Holtby said.
“Every single player in this team had his rest and every single player get prepared for the season,” Jakub Vrana said.
Head coach Todd Reirden even remarked Tuesday how impressed he was with the shape Alex Ovechkin was in when he came to training camp.
But while they all deny the Cup hangover has had a physical effect, if you dig a little deeper you find that yes, the team’s championship run has had an effect mentally.
“It's one of the big challenges this year is you've worked years and years to accomplish your lifelong dream, you accomplish it, now you're kind of finding that ‘now what?’ type thing,” Holtby said. “As a team, you can tell we're doing the same things to kind of do that. It's just, we've got to find that way to get that extra motivation. I think having a bit of struggle off the start isn't a bad thing. It's a kind of reminder that this game never comes easy no matter who you are or what you've done. You've just got to keep outworking other teams and trying to expect more and more every day because the league keeps getting better and we've got to keep getting better as well.”
How did you feel when the Caps won the Cup? Happy? Satisfied? Relieved?
Whatever you felt as a fan, imagine what it was like for the players who have been working towards that moment their entire lives.
But in real life, the story doesn’t end with a championship and the credits don’t start to roll during the celebration. The Caps won the Cup. They reached the pinnacle of their profession, and now they have to get back to the grind. They have to go back to work.
The good news for this team is they know how to dig their way out of an early hole.
Just last season, the Caps got off to a 10-9-1 start. After two blowout losses on road trips to Nashville and Colorado, the team turned things around.
Even as the defending champs, they will need a similar turnaround in November this year.
“There's a belief in our group that we know we're better than what we're showing,” Connolly said, “And it was the exact same thing last year too at the start of the year so we're confident that we can kind of fix that and play to our level. We're just a step behind in a lot of areas right now and little details, that determination in our game that we're not having it for a full 60 minutes right now. We just need to find it and once we do that, we'll be fine.”