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Capitals Not Ready To Pack It In, Demand More As Playoff Race Tightens

The Washington Capitals are not ready to be a non-contender and expect more from one another as the playoff race intensifies.



For years now, the Washington Capitals have set high standards as a consistent playoff team and top competitor, as well as a team who is almost always likely to qualify for the postseason. However, there are no guarantees anymore, and the Capitals are staring down an unfamiliar — and less than ideal — situation down with one game left to go before the All-Star Break.

Following an impressive December, Washington is just 5-7-1 this month with one game left to go, a must — and should — win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That cushion in the Eastern Conference standings is gone, as the Capitals are clinging onto a Wild Card spot and sit just one point in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins and two in front of the Buffalo Sabres. The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers are still in the hunt as well.

Given the circumstances, there's an urgent need in the room to turn things around, and crunch time starts now.

"Lots of guys in here haven't not made playoffs in quite a while, so that's not a trend we would like to start," T.J. Oshie said.

Granted, things haven't gotten any easier for the Capitals. While getting Nicklas Backstrom back was a major boost, the team is also playing without John Carlson and Nic Dowd, and Tom Wilson went down again with another lower-body injury after just nine games back in the mix. 

But still, there are other glaring issues. The power play has struggled big time, and the defensive coverage has not been sharp. There's also a lack of consistency through 60 minutes, as there will be strong starts followed by costly lulls in play or poor starts followed by furious rallies that come too little, too late. Then, at other times, there's a lack of chemistry across the lineup, and trying to do too much leads to bad turnovers, missed assignments and ultimately, losses.

"It doesn't feed good," Backstrom said.

So what's the solution?

"We just need to simplify a little bit," Backstrom said. "Be a little bit quicker and make sure we don't get stuck in our own zone. If we can do that, hopefully we'll create some more offense. Capitalize, that's the key."

"Anytime you're not having success, simplifying is always a good thing," Oshie added. "Especially early in the game, early in periods, simplifying the game creates a little bit more of a playoff atmosphere where there's more forechecking, there's more hitting, there's less turnovers and that game script is always going to steer the team in the right direction."

In addition to that, the Capitals need to carry over momentum and put together a full effort on a nightly basis, which should lead to them escaping the win-loss pattern

"If you're going to make the playoffs, that's where you want to be," Backstrom said. "You need to put a couple wins together. Winning streaks, that's what you need. It's too tight in the stands and teams are catching up."

"It's all that matters. You got to win games to be in a playoff spot," Lars Eller added. "Of course you pay attention to the standings, we all pay attention to where we are, and we realize the gravity of every game."

Beyond that, though, Washington recognizes that it needs to be a united front, and have everyone playing to the system. If they do that, the Capitals expect success, and that's the game plan as they go into Tuesday and prepare to refresh and regroup during the break.

"When we play to our identity, it's a fast game and it's one where we're good at recovering pucks, we're good at winning battles," Garnet Hathway explained. "Focusing more on that effort rather than forcing your play is going to help you win games."

"It starts with commitment to each other," Oshie said. "Commitment to play in our game, to play the right way."

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