Capitals look to right ship as red-hot Flames visit
Is it possible to have a Stanley Cup hangover not take effect until the middle of the season?
For the defending champion Washington Capitals, there seems to be no other explanation, as their losing skid going into Friday night's home game against the Calgary Flames is a stunning seven games.
"We understand there's a lot of work to be done," head coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post. "I have a lot of confidence in our leadership group and the group in that room that have been through adversity and have shown their true colors when push comes to shove."
Because he opted not to skate at the All-Star festivities, captain Alex Ovechkin can't suit up for Friday's tilt.
It's been three weeks since the Capitals (27-17-6, 60 points) last won a game, a combination of the seven-game skid, in which they've collected only two points and fallen into a tie for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division, and the All-Star/bye-week break.
But Washington's struggles go beyond just coming up short on the scoreboard. The Capitals have surrendered a stunning 30 goals in their last five games.
"It's just being off that little bit with our timing and being on the same page," goalie Braden Holtby said. "When you're at your best defensively, you do your job and you trust your teammate to do his. We're trying to make up for one another, and that's when it gets confusing."
"Our execution in the (defensive) zone hasn't been our best, so we need to get back to that," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "I feel like we're making it harder on ourselves in the (defensive) zone. Instead of just making the easy play and get going north, we're sticking around there, so that's something we've got to be better at."
The Western Conference-leading Flames (33-13-5, 71 points) are on the other side of the pendulum when it comes to their fortunes going into the break. Calgary is riding a three-game winning streak and posted a 9-1-1 record in January, which has it six points up on the San Jose Sharks for top spot in the Pacific Division.
That's not to say the Flames, who have a quick two-game road trip that also includes a clash with the Carolina Hurricanes, don't have some history to motivate themselves, though. Last season, the Flames were sitting in a playoff spot, but returned from the break and lost six straight games en route to a tumble down the standings.
"Most guys were here last year and we learned a lesson from last year," center Mikael Backlund told Postmedia. "We weren't as good after the break, so we know what to do this time and what not to.
"I think it's good that we take the time early on to completely shut hockey off and just relax and then the closer we get to getting back, we've got to get the minds ready. I know we all tried to do that last year, too, it's just every guy does their individual thing and every guy learned from it, probably, from last year."
On the flip side, the Flames have every reason to believe this year is different. After all, they have the second-best record through 51 games in franchise history, just behind the pace set by the Stanley Cup-winning squad of 1988-89.
"The neat thing is that I don't think we're anywhere near our full potential," head coach Bill Peters told the team's website. "I do like a lot of aspects of our game. The way some of our players are trending. Our home record is solid. Our road is good. If you look in the West, we have the best home record and the best road record. So we've done a lot of good things through 51 games. Now it's time to show the attention to detail all good teams have.
"We've done a good job of that so far. But there's another level to get to. Our guys are very mature and aware of that, also. I think it's gonna be a lot of fun coming down the stretch."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 1, 2019