Self-confidence is as key in sports as scoring and winning. In fact, self-confidence is integral to both scoring and winning. Earlier this season, the Washington Capitals lacked all three. They could not score, so they were not winning, which negatively impacted their confidence.
Yet, there has been a shift on the ice and in the locker room as the Caps have won four consecutive games for the first time in over two months. The simple answer regarding their recent success is highlighted above – they are winning – but there is a deeper, more cerebral reason as to why Washington has been winning and therefore boosting their confidence.
“Even though we get down a couple goals, we still stay within our plans and everybody does it 100 percent,” Marcus Johansson said after Thursday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “That is what made us turn the games around and that’s a very, very good thing to see and to have, that no matter what the score is, everyone is doing what we’re supposed to do.”
In three of Washington’s last five victories, they have had to rally from behind to do so. First, the Caps rallied from a 2-0 deficit with 3:29 remaining before ultimately defeating the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime February 28. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning March 8, Johansson scored the game-tying goal with less than four minutes left to force overtime, where Alex Ovechkin (like he did against the aforementioned Islanders) scored the game-winning goal in another 3-2 victory. Most impressively, Washington overcame two separate three-goal deficits Tuesday in a 5-4 shootout win over the Islanders.
Such comebacks were few and unlikely earlier in the season. From a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets November 17 where they trailed by that same score after 40 minutes to a 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes February 20 where they fell behind by three goals 20 minutes into the game, the Caps seemed to lack the determination to respond.
According to Johansson, in those instances, the Caps would abandon their game plan as everyone on the ice would overstretch themselves, ditching their specific roles in an effort to force offense. Recently, however, the Caps have stopped overexerting themselves and have remained calm, finding solace in their system.
“Everyone is buying into it,” Johansson said. “That’s maybe what’s been the difference. Earlier on, you get frustrated and you want it too much, so everyone goes out and tries to do it and that doesn’t really work, but when you stay within the systems, you’re gonna get results.”
Losses can grind on any player on any team in any sport, but low morale definitely encapsulated the Caps several months ago. After a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers November 25, Karl Alzner said that the Caps were “getting too down” on themselves after being scored on (particularly in bunches) and were not only losing the battle on the ice, but an inner battle as well. Four months later, Alzner has noticed a tangible difference.
“It’s much less,” he said. “You still get down when you get scored on. You can still feel that, but we bounce back pretty quick. The one thing that was really cool about last year was it didn’t matter if we were down 4-0, we all knew we could score four goals easily. We knew we could win the game. Right now, we’re starting to get that feeling back where we know we can score the goals. At the beginning of the year, we weren’t scoring a whole lot and losing a lot and just didn’t have that confidence to do it. We’re at that point now where guys knows it is not out of reach.”
As Washington prepares for the final stretch of the regular season, it appears that it has started to gel at exactly the right time and the Caps’ recent string of success has proven that less can indeed be more.
“We’ve stuck to our game plan and worked hard and worked as a unit of five on the ice,” Mathieu Perreault said. “We’re getting chances. At the start of the year, we’d go down, but we weren’t really getting any chances, so we were like, ‘There’s no way we’re coming back because we’re not even getting close to getting goals.’ But now, even though we get down a goal or two, we’ve been getting a lot of chances, so we feel like we still can do that.”
“It’s a good feeling,” Perreault continued. “Once you get that feeling in the locker room that you can always come back, it makes your team a lot better.”