THE RESULT:  On the night that HBO premiered their 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, the Washington Capitals continued in the role that has been scripted out for them: the ever-frustrated, not-so lovable losers; doomed to repeat a cycle of endless torment at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It's a familiar storyline that has been re-told in this area for several decades now, back at least to 1991, the first year the flightless fowl beat the Caps in a Stanley Cup Playoff series.

As beautifully shot, edited and narrated as the HBO special is, one thing remains clear:  Washington hockey is doomed.  At least, that's the message that is still being portrayed.

Wednesday night though, it was torment of a different structure, as Washington played perhaps it's best game in two weeks, but still found themselves on the losing end of a 2-1 overtime decision to another team named after less-than-intimidating winged creatures, the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf scored with less than a minute remaining in the extra frame to extend the Capitals losing streak to seven games.  It was a familiar, if not stinging refrain, as the Caps outshot the Ducks by eight and scored the game's first goal...all for naught.

Once again, as has been common in this streak, the Caps got plenty of scoring chances.  But the puck just would not go in.  On the very first shift of the game by the first line, Nicklas Backstrom fanned twice on the same shot at an open net, and Mike Knuble fanned trying to get the rebound on net.

Three more posts and a crossbar.  A Ducks' defenseman sweeping a puck off the goal line.  Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller blocking a shot with the BACK of his paddle, sprawling to the ice after getting beaten badly.

No one wants to make excuses, but some of this is just ridiculous.

Watching the opening episode of HBO's award-winning documentary 24/7 as they chronicle the Caps and Penguins march to New Year's Day's Winter Classic, one has to wonder. "When are some of those bounces going to go the Caps' way?"

It was tough to watch, both Wednesday's loss and the hour-long episode on HBO.  But both featured the very things that hockey is made out of.  Toughness.  Timing.  Hard work.  Injuries and illness.  And opportunities capitalized and squandered.

The Capitals will win again, though right now it doesn't seem like it.  Two weeks ago they sat atop the league standings, and they are too talented to have this misery continue.

The roles are cast.  Heroes and villains.  Only the guys wearing red can change the script.

THE GOOD: The Caps fairly jumped all over the Ducks in the first period and outshot them 17-7.  It's just amazing how the Caps aren't getting any lucky bounces at all right now.

THE BAD: Karl Alzner.  The King has a lot of good hockey in  front of him, but lost -- then was outmuscled by -- Jeoffrey Lupul on Anaheim's first goal

THE UGLY: Mathieu Perreault.  Completely ineffective. No shots.  1-for-10 on faceoffs.

THE STATS: Brooks Laich (8) from John Carlson (11) and Nick Backstrom (23) at 14:22 of 1st.

NEXT GAME:  Saturday at the Boston Bruins at 7:00 pm.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Matt Bradley.  Not much in the stat sheet (three hits), but matched up all night against Anaheim's top line with Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan.
2. Semyon Varlamov.  24 saves on 26 shots.  Played in control most of the night, couldn't be faulted on either goal.  Strong bounce-back effort from the debacle in New York Sunday.
1. Brooks Laich.  Nice work on the backhander for the goal and team-high seven shots on goal. Blocked  a sure goal when Varly got out of position.  Oh, and was a perfect 6-for-6 in the dot. If you want bread, go to the bakery.

A Crisis of Confidence

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 13, 2010 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals lost twice over the weekend, 3-2 to Colorado Saturday at Verizon Center, then a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the New York Rangers Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden.

The two losses run Bruce Boudreau's career-longest losing streak to six games, in which the Capitals have scored just eight times (four in one game), being been shut out twice in the same period.

Not.  Good.

The coach was almost inconsolable after Sunday's spanking. 
"I don't have an answer right now.  I gotta think about this.  It is unfamiliar territory.  And I think we have a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves, but as you can tell, when you get down teams aren't feeling sorry for you, they're... piling it on, so we have to find a way to get out of this.  That's all.  Before it's too late."
The Rangers game was a virtual checklist of bad hockey.

Poor goaltending.  Check.  Bad turnovers.  Check.  Miscommunication between linemates.  Check.  Lack of energy.  Check.

It seemed like Saturday's game against the Avalanche was something of a turning point, as the team played much better, though to the same eventual result.  But the Caps' first seven-goal loss since 2005 erased any sense of recovery.

"It was going okay, until the first goal," Boudreau said, not intentionally trying to being funny.  "In the second period -- I'm trying to find the right words here -- you know, we didn't get a save, you know, was one thing."

"When you've lost now six in a row, you get behind and you get deflated.  And so when they scored a couple of quick goals, and when you're not scoring as a group, then you're going 'Oh jeez, what kind of mountain is this going to be to climb?' and it gets more difficult."

"But that's where you have to resolve.  That's where you have to be defiant and not let it happen.  Right now we have too many guys feeling sorry for themselves."

That seems to be a recurring theme from Boudreau, as he made similar comments after last Thursday's loss.  So whose responsibility is it to shake the players out of their doldrums?  Is it the coach's job?  The captain?  The individuals themselves?

The captain tried to take matters into his hands Sunday, and not in the usual way.  Down 4-0 already, he laid out defenseman Dan Girardi with a nasty hip check, then turned and immediately dropped gloves with the next blue shirt he saw, Brandon Dubinsky. 

Ovechkin did not get the better of the fight, but the result was immaterial.  No, it was more about the intention, trying to inject some life and fight into his corps.  But the effort was perhaps too late in the contest, and, ultimately wasted.

The Great Eight need not resort to fighting to inject life into his teammates though.  He would be much better off with a more traditional sort of inspiration:  scoring a goal.  In the past, there's been no one in the league that shows more passion, excitement and utter joy playing hockey than Alex Ovechkin.  But much of that has been missing this season.

It's been a more workmanlike Ovechkin, and his play is suffering.

Are his captain responsibilities weighing on him that heavily?  Is the fallout from Russia's failure at the Olympic Games still haunting him?  Did the suspensions he earned last season make him change his game that drastically?  Is all the negativity about his personal life in the press changing him as a player?

As he slogs though his worst goal scoring season of his career as he enters the physical prime of his life, these questions are now legitimate.

"We have to group together," Ovechkin said from the locker room Sunday night.  "We don't have to say this guy played bad or made mistakes. We all make mistakes, it's a lot of mistakes. We have to keep together as a team and as a group, we haven't had this kind of situation in a long time. It's something new for us - good teams find wins."

He's saying he right things.  But is anyone listening?

The term "work ethic" gets used a lot in describing hockey players and hockey teams.  It's a concept that tries to quantify how hard a team, or individual players, are playing.  Are the players skating full out for loose pucks?  Are they winning battles off the boards?  Are they completing their checks?

In hockey, it's extremely important to play hard every shift, because in a game with so many funny bounces, it's not always the most talented player (or team) that wins the battle, but the ones that work harder.  And it's also easy to tell when players aren't giving their all.  Even the untrained eye can tell if a player is skating full out or not.

All too often this season, and during this losing streak in particular, a sense of urgency has been missing from the Capitals.  A lot goes into it, though.  Injury, complacency, indifference; they are all factors.

How do they get it back?  And who leads them to it?

Alex Ovechkin is the best player for the Capitals.  His goal scoring is down by half under his career numbers.  The team is in a crisis of confidence. 

The math is easy.  They need Ovie to get his mojo back.  Quickly.

Before it's too late.

***Post-game quotes culled from various sources, including The Washington Post and NHL.com