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Inside Capitals Leaders’ Team Meeting In December That Led To Turnaround

The Washington Capitals held a meeting between leaders in December that resulted in a huge turnaround for the hockey club.



Up in Alberta to open December, the Washington Capitals leaders put their foot down. They'd just witnessed a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames, were second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division and were now missing Darcy Kuemper and Martin Fehervary. It was time for a meeting, one to determine the next steps and lay the foundation for a plan to save the season.

So, prior to the Dec. 5 game against the Edmonton Oilers, head coach Peter Laviolette met with Washington's leaders at the time, including Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, to discuss the game plan going forward. That meeting would set the stage for a stellar December that saw the Capitals go 11-2-2 and rocket up the standings while continuing to get key names back from injury, Kuemper and Fehervary included.

"We said, 'This is a long road from where we sit right now, and not many teams come out of it. And we can't afford a December like October and November. And, if we do, we won't be a playoff team,'" Laviolette said. "Conversations are one thing, that's my job: to get in and talk about thing sand suggest and offer and guide and do whatever that is the job of the coach. But then it is about the players going out on the ice and actually making a commitment."

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Laviolette admitted to being honest during the meeting and in the first couple of months of the season, where he was vocal about the team's effort and would point out flaws and issues regardless of the result. After the December meeting, the leaders then translated that message to the rest of the team — and it was well received. Laviolette also praised Kuznetsov for being a major factor in the turnaround.

"Kuzy had a big month in December, he was a big part of it. Just messages through the room, too," Laviolette said. "It wasn’t just that meeting. Sometimes you take the meeting from there, and you bring it into the main room and you meet with just a few guys on the team and you’re hoping that message is agreed upon and then goes right through the room not only from my voice but from their voice as well and it was definitely a point in time where we needed to change the way we were winning hockey games.”

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There was a stretch, too, where Laviolette would end up meeting with just Ovechkin over coffee in his office, as the leadership group saw several players dealing with injuries, including Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, who are both closing in on returns. However, getting as many players together as possible proved key to turning things around, and Laviolette has been happy with the result as players from across the lineup and beyond the core are taking on more responsibility.

"Other guys needed to step up and guys have. Our team has been successful here for a little bit," Laviolette said. "Guys like Dmitry Orlov, Lars Eller and Kuznetsov and guys like [Trevor van Riemsdyk] and [Erik] Gustafsson steps up. Veteran players inside of our group have stepped up to make sure that we are moving the right way. And it's been really good for those guys to do that and make sure our team is functioning well."