Here is a stat no one in the Capitals locker room wanted to hear on Tuesday:
Following their 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday the Caps are now 0-7-1 against the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference and 5-2-0 against the other seven teams.
“That’s not a good stat,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said after running his team through its most physically demanding practice of the season.
Troy Brouwer agreed.
“We need to find ways to win against those teams,” Brouwer said. “Last game we had little glimmers of good play, but we got outworked.
“We have to find that in our game and find ways to get points against good hockey clubs, because where we are isn’t good enough.”
After 15 games the Capitals are 15th in the Eastern Conference standings with a 5-9-1 record. To make the playoffs for the sixth straight year they’ll need to finish at least two or three games above .500.
That means the Caps will need to play six or seven games over .500 in their final 33 games of the season. That uphill climb continues with three straight home games against teams in the top half of the conference.
The Caps will face the New Jersey Devils [9-3-4] on Thursday and Saturday, then host the Carolina Hurricanes [8-5-1]. Brouwer sees it as an opportunity for the Caps to take their game to a higher level.
“If you don’t,” he said, “you’re going to get mopped up.”
Asked what the Caps need to do better against the top teams in the East, the normally loquacious Jason Chimera was direct.
“Score more goals than the other team,” he said.
Chimera has spent the past five games on the Caps’ top line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro but is still seeking his first goal of the season. Second-line winger Wojtek Wolski has been stuck on two goals for seven games.
The Capitals have also received just six goals from their blue line through 15 games.
Mike Green [2 goals] sat out Sunday’s game in New York with a lower body injury but Oates said he’s hopeful Green will practice on Wednesday and be available for Thursday night’s game against the Devils.
Oates said there are things that need to be corrected from Sunday’s loss in New York – namely, staying out of the penalty box – but overall he’s pleased with the progress his team has made in the first 15 games of the season.
Asked when he may come to a point where he’s willing to take a win at the expense of playing well, Oates said, “Almost never. You obviously want to win games, obviously. But you have to play correct to win. Whatever your team system is you have to believe in it. That’s what I believe and that’s what we’re trying to install.”