The Capitals are in a funk. For the first time this season, Washington has lost four straight. Before the current losing streak, the team's largest margin of defeat was three goals. They surpassed that margin twice just in the last four games.
Frustration from Monday's 7-3 blowout at the hands of the Boston Bruins and from the team's losing streak carried over into Tuesday's practice.
“I think everybody hates losing," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "I mean the players hate losing, so I don’t think anybody’s in a great mood today. ... I think everybody’s probably grumpy.”
"Last game, it felt awful leaving the rink," Lars Eller said. "It felt awful in the third period. Embarrassing. It shouldn't happen to us at home."
Practices for the Caps are always serious, but the team tends to keep things lighthearted. There is generally a lot of stick taps and laughs. Competitions within practices lead to over-the-top celebrations as the team keeps things loose over the slog of an 82-game season.
On Tuesday, however, there were few smiles and few stick taps. A frustrated team took the ice angry with the results from one night before.
"That shouldn't happen to us on home ice like it did last game," Eller said. "I've been left with a feeling you don't often leave with. Probably a lot of guys felt that way and the guys' competitive nature shows up sometimes in practice the next day. So yeah, the compete level should be high and it was today."
But trying to pinpoint what went wrong over the last four games is not easy considering the team has lost in a variety of ways.
"I think the New Jersey game, I thought we fought back in that game," Laviolette said. "The Minnesota game, I thought, to me, a pretty decent game, I just don't like the result. And then it's a couple games that I wish we were better defensively or did a little bit more and that was St. Louis and the game [Monday]."
The goaltending has to be better. The team has to limit the turnovers and clean up the weak spots in the defense. The offense needs to improve its transitions up ice to help limit those turnovers and the special teams have to find some consistency.
For a team that has faced and overcome adversity all season with the constant churn of players in and out of the lineup, it is surprising to see these struggles crop up now just as the team seems to be getting closer to full strength.
But while there are a number of areas the team needs to improve on from the last few games, the unsatisfying explanation for the team's current slump may just be that it is one of the peaks and valleys that every team hits over the course of a long season.
"It happens almost to every team every year at some point and we've got to make something good come of it," Eller said. "That's all. Because I know we're better."
So are the current struggles the result of the team just hitting one of those low points that every team experiences or a sign of underlying weaknesses that the team must address? As the Caps try to battle their way back into the win column, we will learn the answer soon enough.
"Every team goes through these stretches where things are going against them a little bit and some games, you're not playing to the level you should and all of a sudden you lose three and four in a row," Eller said. "We do realize that, we looked at video this morning, we talked about it, we had a good intensive practice and now we've got to respond the next game. We have a couple of days, but I'm confident we will turn our game around."