The Capitals need a break.
A seven-game winless streak, the worst since the disastrous 2013-14 season, has left the defending Stanley Cup champions reeling heading into this weekend’s NHL All-Star break and next week’s schedule bye.
They will not meet again as a group until Jan. 31 for a 2 p.m. practice. Then comes a critical six-game homestand with a game every other day against a mix of division leaders (Calgary), playoff contenders (Boston, Colorado, Vancouver) and also-rans (Florida, Los Angeles).
But who they play matters far less than how they play and right now – after a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday – that is nowhere near good enough for a team that has set a standard for excellence the past four seasons.
“We’ve put ourselves in the playoff race, but it’s a bigger picture,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “If we’re going to focus on getting better we can’t look at those [standings] points, we’ve got to look at our game. If we play like this in the playoffs, we’ll be going home early.”
Holtby included himself with that critique. His numbers since Dec. 31 are poor (.873 save percentage, 4.35 goals-against average). Backup goalie Phoenix Copley isn't much better (.877, 3.84). The defensive play in front of them was concerning enough that the coaching staff switched the top pairs with John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov joining forces and Matt Niskanen playing with Michal Kempny.
The Capitals have gone through every cliché of a struggling team. They held a players’-only meeting on Sunday and a full review with the coaching staff on Monday. After a deflating 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose – a game where the tying goal came with one second left – an angry coach Todd Reirden lit into his players.