By Adam Vingan
Much has been made since Dale Hunter’s arrival as head coach over two weeks ago about the Washington Capitals shifting from Bruce Boudreau’s system to his, one that emphasizes responsible play in the defensive zone and a more aggressive, man-to-man-like defense. Yet, after a lopsided 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday, Brooks Laich is tired of hearing the word “system.”
“Everyone talks around here about systems, systems, systems,” he said. “I don’t know if you really pay attention to the game because the mistakes are obvious and it’s not system play. It’s not a flawed system. It wasn’t that under Bruce and it’s not that under Dale. It’s not system flaw, structural flaw. It’s the execution.”
The Caps, 3-4-0 under Hunter, did anything but execute Tuesday as they allowed the Flyers to dictate the pace of the game, which allowed them to take advantage of sloppy defensive zone play and score at will. Once Scott Hartnell scored late in the first period to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead, Washington’s downward spiral continued as a one-goal game turned into a four-goal deficit by the end of the second period. The Caps were getting signals crossed, screening Tomas Vokoun at inopportune times and failing to sustain any offensive pressure.
If one play was a microcosm of Tuesday’s lackluster effort, it was the play that ultimately led to Maxime Talbot’s goal. Sensing urgency, Alex Ovechkin decided to do things by himself as he is known to do in desperation. Braydon Coburn pinned him against the boards and the loose puck came to James van Riemsdyk, who passed it to Talbot for the eventual goal. Ovechkin was several steps behind Talbot as he went to shoot and did not make any effort to get back into position.
With a two-game road trip ahead, Laich hopes that the Caps dig deep and find the drive to win.
“I want to see our work ethic through the roof, is what I want to see,” he said. “I want to see desire. People want to point fingers at systems and this and that, but you can’t execute anything without work ethic, so I want to see our work ethic skyrocket, see everybody hustle, see everybody compete, skate, shoot the puck, attack the net, be hard to play against. Do that sort of stuff, be physical. If you do that sort of stuff, you’re a tough team to play against.”
Laich added that Washington has been inconsistent lately, especially under Hunter’s watch. After a strong effort in defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins December 1 and a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators December 3, the Caps took a step back in a 5-4 loss the Florida Panthers December 5. In similar fashion, after two straight, hard-fought wins over the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs last week, the Caps fell short against the Flyers.
Washington will get a chance to establish some consistency Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that embarrassed them in a 4-1 loss November 17 at MTS Centre. The Caps have since exacted revenge in a 4-3 overtime win November 23, but they are looking up at both the Jets and Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division standings. Without a winning streak of three or more games to their credit since their season-opening seven-game streak, the Caps know how important games – especially divisional games – are at a time like this.
“Standings can change within a week drastically, but we don’t want to be winning two, losing two,” John Erskine said. “We want to put together a little streak here. Some teams are so close. This is the time of year where you have to bear down and get those points.”
“It’s big,” Karl Alzner said. “We obviously want to get a win in that building after the last time we played there and redeem ourselves for our last game against the Flyers. It’s important, all these Southeast Division games, especially with us not being at the top, coming in and out of playoff spots, we have to win these games now. It’s not a matter of wanting to. It’s necessary. We’ve got to recognize the situation that we’re in and go out there and get it. We have no opportunity to coast into the playoffs now. It’s something that’s going to be a battle right to the end.”