WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is blunt as he reflects on a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday. He is honest, not holding back as he stresses the need for the Capitals to turn things around.
“You see every other team is buzzing right now, and we’re not,” Backstrom said. “That is something we have to get back to.”
Over their last 10 games, the Capitals are 4-6-0 and have been trading wins and losses. They haven’t been able to win more than two straight games since late December, and they’ve fallen from atop the Metropolitan Division to Wild Card territory. Right now, Washington sits in the fourth spot but is only four points ahead of the Boston Bruins, who sit in the second spot.
Beyond the standings, their on-ice play has dropped, too. The power play isn’t — and hasn’t been — clicking. And the penalty kill, which was one of the best in the NHL, now sits in the middle of the pack amid a stretch of struggles. The Capitals are also struggling to score at even strength and execute on their scoring chances.
Then comes trouble and lazy play in the neutral zone, along with poor reads in the defensive zone and inconsistent goaltending have made things more difficult. Plus, having Vitek Vanecek, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha on the shelf doesn’t help.
Not only that, but the team has lost five straight games on home ice, and can’t seem to find out how to stack up against their opponents, regardless of who it is or where they rank across the league.
“We’re still up and down. We’re win one, lose one. That’s definitely not where we want to be,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think we expect more of ourselves. It’s disappointing again being here in our building, in front of our fans, we’ve got to be better than that.”
“Last couple weeks here, we haven’t played with that flow that we did earlier, like the mojo we used to have here,” Backstrom added. “I feel like we are putting ourselves in bad spots, d-zone, neutral zone, we are not creating as much as we should.”
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The Swedish center also said that the Capitals aren’t playing their game right now. He said that the team is falling into bad habits and also may be overthinking things at times, especially on the man adcantage as the team looks to find any kind of solution to break through.
“I just think that everything needs to be better. I feel like we just got to relax and try to play our game here. Because that is not our game,” Backstrom said.
The results have sunken in in the locker room, and they haven’t been great to consider. However, despite the disappointment — and furstration that does boil over — the team is trying not to hit the panic button. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a fix.
“It’s something that we really want to get sorted out. Obviously we’re working at it, to try to figure out what it is… We can’t get frustrated,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “We got a lot of guys that played a lot of games that know that pressing or getting frustrated is not to solve anything. Like Nick said, you have to get back to having that confidence and playing with that confidence and doing the right things.”
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Washington has a lengthy road trip coming up, a place that has been kind to the Capitals for the most part this season. On that trip, they’ll look to not only pick up wins, but to find consistency as a group and see players step up their individual performances as well.
“We need more from everybody. I don’t think it’s fair to go to one guy when you’re looking to win hockey games. Everybody’s got to put their hands on the rope,” Laviolette said. “We’ve got to be better inside of that… I think everybody’s got to be a little bit better.”
Right now for the Capitals, it appears that the only way out is through. Something’s got to give at some point. And it starts with finding a spark on offense, cleaning up mistakes and consistent play. Also, Washington needs to have its foot on the gas for the entire 60 minutes of play.
Ultimately though, even though it hurts now, Backstrom said this experience should help the team going forward.
“We’re all athletes, we’ve been in this situation before. It’s not going to go, it’s not going to be perfect every day,” Backstrom explained. “I think when we get out of this, we are going to be stronger as a team.”