The Caps’ 4-0 loss to the Southeast-leading Hurricanes on Tuesday knocked Washington 10 points out of the division lead and down to 29th in the NHL standings.
It also marked their third straight loss after a three-game winning streak that seemed to show that Adam Oates’ system was finally sinking in and that perhaps the Caps were on the brink of turning their season around.
“We can't be going five and five in a ten game stretch,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, obviously keenly aware of the Caps’ one-step forward, one step back record. “We're not in a good spot at all right now. It's gotta be picked up and it's gotta stay up. We can't have these dips.”
More troubling perhaps than the recent dip, however, is that no one seems to know how to right the ship.
“Sometimes it’s specialty teams and sometimes it's 5 on 5s and break downs,” said Jeff Shultz, whose lack of hustle to beat Patrick Dwyer back to wash out icing in the second period resulted Carolina’s third goal. “It's not just one thing every game that's killing us.”
The last time these teams met in the Verizon Center Washington was able to capitalize on a beat up Carolina squad. This time around though, it was the Caps plugging three rookies into their ailing defensive unit.
“We came in last game in here very vulnerable with a junior A defenseman and a couple guys that hadn't played in the NHL at all, and it's tough. We did take advantage, at times, of some inexperience on their group, too,” said Carolina head coach Kirk Muller.
“They're giving you their all, they're doing a good job but yeah there's three kids back there,” said Oates. “So if anything it gives the other team a little bit more confidence just like when we played them the a few weeks ago.”
At the end of the night, rookie and veteran defenseman alike were all nicked with at least a goal apiece. Each of the rookies tonight, Steve Oleksy, Tomas Kundratek and first time call-up Cameron Schilling, ended the night with a -1 rating.
“Nothing really seemed too tough for them,” said Alzner. “It’s just playing better as a unit. It's d-pairings, it's forward lines. There hasn't been enough going on chemistry-wise. We haven't been using each other and feeding off each other and it hasn't been good results because of it.”
“I don't necessarily agree with that,” said Oates of Alzner's assessment. “I know the guys are searching for answers for you guys after a game too and I understand that. If I thought a team was outplaying us drastically then I would say yeah, but I don't feel that way watching the last few games. I don't.”
But Alzner, along with many of his teammated tonight, did’t see it that way.
“We're not finding each other as good as we have been in the past offensively and defensively. Our plays up to the forwards haven't been very crisp and we're not hitting guys with speed. A lot of times we're kind of just chipping it out into the neutral zone and then kind of waiting to fight another day instead of taking that hard hit to make the right play. I don't know how you change it. Sometimes it just clicks and sometimes it doesn't and we need it to click on now.
“Giving the other teams points that you're chasing...that's never good. I guess that's the difference between good teams and great teams is the great teams can lose one and go right back to playing really good again and right now we're losing one and we crash for a couple after that. That's the thing that has to change. We gotta become a great team and we gotta become a great team now and we don't have 82 games to figure that out.”
The Capitals will have their next chance to figure it out in another crucial meeting with Carolina on Thursday.