Through most of March, whatever concerns the Capitals had headed toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs appeared to be fading away with each game. Their play improved, their record followed, and their goaltending solidified.
But since, those concerns have resurfaced in a major way — and with less time than ever to right the ship
The Capitals will play the Lightning on Wednesday in the midst of what could very well be their most difficult, and most impactful, seven-game stretch of the season. With that in mind, T.J. Oshie said the team had players-only meetings in the last few days to try and correct the issues that have plagued the team in the last few weeks.
“We’re not playing our brand of hockey, we're not playing to our identity,” he said. “I don’t think any amount of coaching would get you out of that. That comes down to the guys on the ice, the players playing a certain way, being prepared a certain way. So we’ve been talking as a group, as players, and just getting some thoughts out there on what things need to change.”
Washington lost twice in blowout fashion, once after a five-day layoff, against Carolina and Minnesota by an aggregate score of 11-2. Since those two are playoff teams, with one as a potential first-round playoff preview, the concern level certainly rose.
The problems can be traced a little further back, as the Capitals had to pull out a win against the Devils in the third period on March 26, a night after they took the Sabres to a shootout. Three nights before that, they were clobbered at home by the Blues in a 5-2 loss.
“The identity hasn’t changed, we’ve just gotten away from it,” Oshie said. “We’ve gotten away from having 20 guys in the lineup come with a purpose to win and win a certain way and we just haven’t had that. Sometimes you can get away with it if (Alex Ovechkin) goes out and scores a bunch of goals or (Evgeny Kuznetsov) does his thing. But a lot of times, you can’t.”
Oshie also emphasized the meetings weren’t so much about structure and strategy as they were about mindset entering the postseason.
With four playoff teams on deck in the next five games (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Boston and Toronto), the Capitals should have a nice opportunity to prove to everyone, and themselves, that they can compete with other Stanley Cup-contending teams in the postseason.
“I’ve been on teams where we’ve had awesome seasons and the last few games or so we didn’t play the way we wanted,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “It’s not like you can just flick that switch on. I know it’s a cliche but it’s true. When those playoff games get coming up, you want to be playing the right way coming into it.”