“But we’ve still got 18 games. There’s a lot of hockey left. Sometimes you’re gonna lose hockey games. That’s the way it goes. So we’ve got to rebound.”
That’s what Brooks Laich told media members after the Capitals’ 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Friday.
But, while the Capitals gave up four fewer goals against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday—the team with the highest goals per game average in the NHL—they still couldn’t manage to find the net themselves. Another loss, this one 1-0.
17 games left now. Just 1 point out of the playoffs, but 5 points back from the division leader.
“Bottom line, it just kind of comes down to us,” Jeff Schultz said Saturday after practice. “You got to get up for every game like it’s a playoff game. And that’s kind of the mindset that we need.”
“We see the standings, you try not to look at them, saw Florida won again tonight. They’re [the standings are] always around. [You’re] always being reminded of it,” Troy Brouwer said after the game Sunday. “You have to find ways to win, especially at this time of year.”
There’s two sides to the challenge of being on the threshold looking into the postseason: one is remaining calm and staying focused, but there’s also the sense of urgency that should fill every shift this close to the end of the season with the playoffs just out of reach. How, as hockey players, do you balance that sense of urgency with the calmness Brooks Laich expressed in his answer Friday?
“Just worry about who we’re playing that night, and don’t look too far ahead,” Schultz said. “It’s almost like just take each period one at a time. … These games are so important right now.”
“It’s tough,” Green said of striking the balance. “I don’t think people understand that.”
In the game Tuesday against the Islanders, both the calmness and the extra spark needed to get into the playoffs were evident. But the two shutouts that followed told a slightly different story. And it begged the question: had the sense of urgency even kicked in?
“It’s got to. I don’t know. I mean, I think we could be a little better in that department,” Green said Saturday. “We’re a desperate hockey team right now, and we got to make ground.”
“If it hasn’t kicked in yet, then I think there’s something wrong with us,” Schultz said. “If it hasn’t kicked in, then you know we’re in trouble here. “
“With the exception of our last game, I think we’ve been playing pretty good hockey—played real well tonight, we played real well the entire Islanders game. I think we’re playing hard. I think we’re trying. It’s not for lack of effort right now, it’s just a couple mental errors that teams capitalized on every single opportunity we’ve given them in the last couple games, and that’s why we’re losing.” Brouwer said Sunday.
Is any sense of urgency evident to their opponents?
The Flyers’ Claude Giroux had nothing but nice things to say when asked that question after the Flyers’ win over the Capitals Sunday.
“They played a pretty good game,” Giroux said. “They’re a good team, and they can make plays, and they can score goals, so I think it was a good game by them, it was just Bryz [Bryzgalov] shut the door down.”
And, when asked how he felt this Caps team was different to play against than the time he faced basically the same roster previously in October—which was the sixth game in the Capitals’ season-opening 7-game win streak, although Giroux still managed to score a goal (he did not play in the two teams’ December matchup)—Giroux said the Capitals are still dangerous and complimented Michal Neuvirth.
“Even if they’re not in the playoffs, I think they’re a very dangerous team,” Giroux said. “They have a good goalie, and offensively they were very dangerous. So I think for us it was important to play good defensively and were responsible with the puck.”