"But once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging and everything on the bench and they just didn't believe they were going to be able to come back tonight." -- Coach Bruce Boudreau on the third period collapse.

THE RESULTS:  The Washington Capitals pre-holiday slump continued at a stunned, discontented Verizon Center Thursday night, as the Caps were shut out by the Florida Panthers, 3-0.

Despite receiving five power plays and registering 18 shots on goal in the first period, the Caps failed to score.  It took the wind out of Washington's sails, and they were a completely different team after the intermission.

The second period saw more of the same, with the Caps free-lancing instead of sticking with the game plan.  The game stayed scoreless until there was one second left, when Alexander Frolik banged home a third-effort shot between four Caps defender in the low slot.

Deflated, the Caps should have just stayed in the dressing room instead of putting on the debacle that followed in the third, as Florida scored twice more against out-of-position defenders while forwards played individually and failed to back-check at all.

For the game, the Capitals ended up 0-for-8 on the power play, including 1:53 of five-on-three play.

After the game, Coach Bruce Boudreau left in no uncertain terms how he felt about his team's effort, and veteran forward Mike Knuble was no less certain in his assessment of the state of the team.

"Our intentions were good at the beginning," Boudreau said, "Then when you don't score on the power play when you have the opportunity you could see at the end of the first period that we started to try to do things as individuals instead of collectively.  And when that happens, you know, it's tough.  But it's no excuse. 

After the first period, we were talking about how often this happens [when a team drastically outshoots its opponent], then the other team comes out and they're going to get power plays in the second period and it usually turns.  And I thought we did a really good job of holding them off on the five-on-three and the penalty, but you got four guys down there [on the first goal] and nobody touching anybody and they're gonna score."

"Once [Florida] believed that, at the start of the third period, they dug in their heels pretty good.  They were a determined group and we were looking like we were feeling sorry for ourselves."

“My thoughts were our top six forwards weren’t very good. But our bottom six forwards were working their hardest and getting opportunities,” Boudreau said. “So I wanted to put at least one of those guys on with the [top] guys and maybe it would rub off, the energy would rub off.

"But quite frankly, if your best players aren’t your best players – and we’ve been shut out three times in the last 11 games, which has never happened - you’re not going to have success.”

"You have to get production out of your best players and it's not happening right now.  Alex has two goals in eleven games, Semin hasn't scored in seven or eight games, Mike Green hasn't gotten a goal in I don't know how many games, same thing with Nick Backstrom...if they're not gonna score, and the power play's not gonna work, then you better win the game 1-0."

"They aren't playing good enough right now to score goals."

"I came in between periods, second and third, and everybody was hanging their heads and we were down 1-0.  My job at that time is not give them crap, but let them know they're good -- and don't feel sorry for yourselves.  Don't put your head down.  Dig your heels in and come back and it's one shot."

"But once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging and everything on the bench and they just didn't believe they were going to be able to come back tonight."

Veteran forward Mike Knuble was pointed in his post-game comments. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Mike Knuble had a different take on the situation, insisting that the team can't solely depend on the team's stars to carry them every night.

"You can point the finger in this game a lot of different places.  Fact of the matter is through 40 minutes it's a tied game.  And the power play didn't holdup its end of the bargain at all.  I don't know if we're fragile enough that if things don't go well on the power play that it's gonna creep into our five-on-five play.  I don't.  But we were playing a tight game and it didn't seem like we were comfortable with it."

"We didn't muster a whole lot there in the third, and when we went down two...a lot of nights it's in the cards for us but tonight it wasn't.  Usually we can draw on something and get something going but we couldn't."

"We've been doing teams a lot of favors lately, letting them pull out of slumps and helping teams feel good about themselves and frankly it's getting pretty tiring.  We're supposed to be a top team and we're letting teams come in and feel good about themselves when they leave.  Nobody is more embarrassed than the players today."

"I think some of our players have flown under the radar as far as their play.  Myself included, probably the number one culprit.  We just all have to be better.  It's not all on Ovie, it not on Nick.  And it's not on our top guys all the time.  It other guys that need to help out.  We've all got to be better."

"Usually it comes pretty easy at home.  If we're down a goal, frankly, we've got the horses to come out and win the game, but tonight it wasn't there.  And it can't be on our horses all the time.  It's gotta be on other guys too."

Both men are correct, of course.  When a team that is one of the most prolific scoring teams in the league scores six goals in four games, you can bet they were all losses, as they were.  And the trouble is systemic right now -- top to bottom.

But this team has has losing streaks before.  It's a long season and it's going to happen.  Fans can -- and should -- voice their displeasure, both at the game and on message boards and social media. 

But those calling for heads to roll are both short-sighted and incorrect.  Caps fans have been spoiled lately into thinking this is an easy game; that the 82 game regular season is nothing more than a long tune up for the playoff and the Caps should win games like tonight easily.

And maybe some of the players themselves have let that thinking set in.

But this is the NHL.  Nothing is easy.  And the Caps are one of the most talented and well coached teams in the league.  I needn't remind anyone that's been a fan of this team for more than just a few years what a poorly coached team looks like.

Let's all just step back, take a breath, and remind ourselves that losing streaks will happen over an 82-game schedule.

THE GOOD:  Semyon Varlamov played well for most of the game, though he had very little help.

THE BAD:  Too much to mention.

THE UGLY:  Fans streaming out of Verizon Center, justifiably booing with full lungs, after Florida scored their third goal.  Let's hope it's a long time indeed before we see that again.

THE STATS:  No goals.

NEXT GAME:  Saturday at 7:00 pm against Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center.


3.  Eric Fehr.  Five shoots on goal in first period.  Fourth line in the third.  Huh?
2.  Scott Hannan.  He knows the right place to go instinctively.
1.  Semyon Varlamov.  Could sue for non-support.