The Washington Times - November 19, 2011, 12:21AM

TORONTO | Being called “soft” is up there among the top insults in hockey. So when Karl Alzner said he and his Capitals teammates were “a little too soft” in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets, it was an interesting observation.

It wasn’t like Alzner said anything out of line, given that many around the locker room have used words like “outworked” and “outplayed” to describe recent events.

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“If you look at it, I think we’re the third-tallest and second heaviest in the league. We’re not using our size to our advantage,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When we used to score a lot of goals, it was from cycling and working hard in the corners, and we’re not getting that now.”

OK, this isn’t like San Jose Sharks star Joe Thornton calling the New York Rangers the softest team his team has faced all year. This is self-criticism about not being hard enough to play against. While groups like the Nashville Predators make each game a battle, the Caps are struggling in the area of making opponents hate playing them.

“We’re not punishing teams, I guess, when they come into our zone and when we go into their zone. That’s something, I think, it’s pretty easy to fix. It’s chipping pucks in and getting on other teams,” Alzner said. “When they do get in our zone, hit them. Close the gaps. It’s something that’s an easy fix, and it’s something that we have to change mentally. Physically I think we work hard a lot of times, but we don’t always work smart enough.”

Being hard to play against – aka not being “soft” – is about more than just dishing out a crazy amount of hits. Boudreau questioned how many hits the Caps were credited with in Winnipeg, pointing to two specific ones he saw from Matt Hendricks.

But the numbers aren’t as important as the Caps dictating the physical tone of games.

“We’ve been not giving ourselves the optimal chance to win as far as dealing with big bodies and not getting pucks deep and making it tough on their D-men,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve got a big, strong team, and we’re just not making it difficult for other teams’ D-men to break the puck out, or even their forwards through the neutral zone.”

Be hard to play against – another goal for the Caps.