Photo: Maddie Meyer
This morning, Peter and Pat wrote two posts pointing out the worrying trends of the best team in hockey. The Washington Capitals have seen their possession fall off a cliff, they’re getting dominated in first periods, they’ve seen their god-like goaltender become a mere mortal, and they’ve watched their two best players, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, struggle. On top of that, the Caps suffered arguably their worst loss of the season Sunday against the Penguins, watching their defense have breakdown after breakdown against the Pens’ speed game.
Monday, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun joined the Caps at a team-building event in Ottawa. Matt Niskanen told LeBrun he believes the team has motivation issues.
“Honestly, I think we’ve been trying to fight through it for a while already,” Niskanen said. “And we’ve struggled with it at times, finding motivation, to really have that second and third kind of effort that you need to win; the high-compete puck battles. Guys are working hard and playing the right way for the most part, we’re trying to do the right things, but in games you really, really, really need to win you find that second and third effort all over the ice.
“That kind of hasn’t been there at times in the last few weeks,” Niskanen continued. “We’ve been fighting that. That’s going to be the biggest thing — how do we get our battle level up to playoff level in the last 11 games? Or at least close to playoff level so Game 1 isn’t such a shock.'”
The Capitals have had what basically amounts to insurmountable leads in their division and conference for several months now. They even have a 12-point lead in the President’s Trophy race with 11 games remaining to play. The Capitals clinched a playoff spot last week and would clinch both the Division and Conference championships with a win tonight.
“It’s really hard to have that mental urgency it takes to do the same when there’s not something really on the line like a playoff game or fighting to get into the playoffs,” Niskanen said. “That’s hard to fabricate, really. I think what we have to do is know what our goals are as far the big picture goes and push ourselves internally to play at a higher level, and higher and higher, as we get to the remaining games so we’re trying to peak at the right time.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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