"For whatever reason, we stopped working. We got comfortable -- a little too comfortable." -- Karl Alzner
Just over one minute into the game, Alex Ovechkin gave the Washington Capitals a 1-0 lead as he used All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty as a screen at the top of the face-off circle and beat Los Angeles Kings' backup goalie Jonathan Bernier for his 21st goal of the season.
That was the peak of the Caps effort today. One minute, six seconds. Oh, and the goal was unassisted.
They spent the rest of the game fumbling passes, turning the puck over, watching each other to see if anyone was going to fight for the puck and squandering power play opportunities, eventually falling to a team in the middle of a ten-game road trip, 4-1, before a very disgruntled sold out crowd at Verizon Center.
If the boos and ugly comments raining down from the 400 sections in front of the press box were any indication of the mood of the typical Caps fan after this lackluster performance, the Caps must be looking forward to heading out on a five-game roadie of their own.
The first two periods were just a continuation of the general malaise that has followed this team around much of the season. There were sparks of effort, but nothing sustained. All the jokes about a sluggish 12:30 pm start rang true.
In the third period, however, the Capitals just stopped playing hockey. Most of the players on the ice looked like they'd have rather been anywhere than where they were. And the results -- three third period goals for the Kings -- were expected and justified.
As usual after a tough loss, veteran forward Mike Knuble held court for the media in the locker room after the game.
"I don't know what we're waiting for. There's a lot to play for -- as players, as individuals, as a team. Every game is important. Those are huge points we left on the table the last two games."
"[The Kings] were capitalizing on loose pucks and we aren't. We're coming to a key point in the season. I'm sure we're all aware of that. It's time to start throwing the switch toward the playoffs. It's like we're waiting for something to happen. We're waiting for something."
Coach Bruce Boudreau seemed surprised that his team was waiting for a switch to be thrown. "If they're waiting for some switch to magically appear, it's not going to happen."
"We got outworked in the first, outworked in the second. All we had to do is outwork them in the third to start a tough road trip, and they looked like they already were thinking about what's going on in the sun."
If Boudreau was looking for this game to build momentum for the five-game west coast road trip, what he got was the complete opposite. "It's really diappointing. Hopefully this is as low as we get. This was something we were counting on -- as a coaching staff at least -- to come in, win this game as a springboard for a tough road trip."
Boudreau talked about the faltering power play, which went 0-for-5 today. "We've practiced it more in the past month than we did all last year. It's the same guys. The number one thing we have to do is win battles. Every loose puck, [the Kings] got. Every time there was a one-on-one situation, [the Kings] got it."
Boudreau's right. His team did not put out the requisite effort needed to compete in the National Hockey League. It's a script that is all too familiar at this point in the season.
Do changes need to be made? Has this team tuned out their coach? Would a change at that level make any difference at this point in the season?
Or, are some of the players on this team even capable of being motivated by anything other than what drives them personally?
What about a change to the roster? Boudreau said he "tried" to send a message at the end of the game by benching a couple players, and managing minutes that way could be a method to inspire effort. But he also said that he needs his best players to be his best players and he needs them on the ice.
This team seems to "get up" for marquee games. Pittsburgh. New Year's Day. National television. When they play motivated, they are one of the most talented teams in the league.
But games like today show that all the talent in the world can't succeed unless you put out the effort.
It's not too late for the Washington Capitals to find that effort and make a push as they head down the homestretch. It's hard to imagine this team not qualifying for the playoffs at this point.
But what's the point if they can't find the effort within themselves needed to succeed?